Harvey phoned early in the morning. Twice. Of course, Anne was out shopping. This is what happens when phone calls are important. He rang again in the evening. She was in.
“What about the Friday after?”
“I really can’t, Harvey. I’m going to see a film.” (Didn’t he leave me? Didn’t he go off round the world?)
“Well, we’ll go together.”
“No, Harvey. You see, I’m going with someone else.”
“Ah, I see.” The penny dropped, and finally Harvey had to admit to himself that there was someone else.
“Well perhaps the weekend after. Put me in your diary, Anne.”
He said it in a relaxed way, but he had had a shock, which was something he wasn’t used to, and he spent the next few days pondering over who this other person was.
Anne didn’t mind inventing work as an excuse in this game, but she drew the line at inventing people, so she phoned Bob. No, he wasn’t doing anything on Friday, and he’d be around at seven to pick her up. He didn’t ask Anne why she had suddenly phoned him. He didn’t even ask what film was on.
Harvey had a call from Jake, who had also decided to leave Australia and was now on his way home to Ireland. When Harvey left Sydney, Jake started thinking, and the pull of Ireland’s green fields became stronger than ever. It had always been there in the background but when Harvey had shown that it was possible to go back, Jake felt the need to go home more than ever. He was stopping for Friday night with his brother in London before making his way back to County Clare. Could Harvey come to see him in London? Harvey phoned Anne but she was out again. Harvey went to London, where, as always happens, he lost the little piece of paper on which he had written Anne´s number. He had it at home, of course, but he wouldn’t be home until Monday.
Anne came home at six and wondered when Harvey would phone her. On Friday Bob came round at six as he had promised, and he and Anne went to the cinema. But through Saturday and Sunday Anne kept hoping for the phone call.
Harvey phoned as soon as he arrived home and by then Anne had passed three days of self-reproach, doubt, recrimination and everything else she could worry herself with. How difficult we make our lives!
Harvey too had never felt less confident, (She might just put the phone down. What do I do then?), so he had planned the call carefully. He had thought about where he would invite her, and he had listed all the reasons for going there (better reasons than Irish fiddlers). He would not mention anything connected with his own feelings, and he was ready with at least three arguments in case she simply said no.
In fact, she said yes. They went out for a meal that evening, and after the meal, at about ten o’clock on a clear night when every star was out to celebrate the event, they walked back to Anne’s flat just off Whiteladies Road. Anne went into the kitchen to make some coffee.
‘Anne. I’d like to look at that James Thurber book.’
‘It’s in my room. On the shelf over the bed. Get it if you like. I’m busy with the coffee. It always boils over if I leave it!’
Harvey went to her room to look for the book that they had been talking about over dinner. It was a collection of James Thurber’s short stories and included “The Catbird Seat”, a story which Anne liked, and Harvey hadn’t read.
The first thing that Harvey saw, when he went in Anne’s room, was a huge map of the world on the wall. As he went closer, he saw a line of red pins stretching from London to Australia. It was very similar to his route! Or was it his route? It looked like it, but in these days of seeking the east, many travellers took a similar road. No, there was the detour down to Aqaba. That wasn’t usual. He and Jake had gone to Aqaba, so it must be his route. Anne wouldn’t know anyone else, would she, who went overland to Australia with an Aqaba detour? That “someone else” that she had gone to the cinema with? Had he too gone round the world? Had he gone to Aqaba? No, surely not. And there was the last pin, stuck firmly in Perth. It must be his own journey. Yes, he was sure that it was his journey that had been pinned to the wall, town by town, over a year. He went into the kitchen, completely forgetting James Thurber, in fact forgetting everything except the line of red pins running eastwards across the world. How on earth had she known where he was?
“On Saturday we’ll go to Exmoor.” Harvey started, with great confidence. “I know a walk that finishes at Oare. Lorna Doone country. We’ll leave no later than eight in the morning and be away the whole day.”
“I can’t go on Saturday, Harvey. I’ve got a lot of work to do.” (How convenient work was.)
“You can’t keep this up for ever, Anne.”
“Working on Saturdays?”
“No, not working on Saturdays. I’ve seen your map. I have seen the red pins.”
She had forgotten the map. She looked at it every night when she went to bed, the red line pointing eastwards. Harvey’s sister had kept her up to date with his progress. How many pins had she stuck in? Was it therapeutic? Was it acupuncture? Or was it voodoo? Had each pin inflicted pain on the person who had left her? No, it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that.
“What map?” she asked quietly and went as red as the pins she had put in week after week, month after month.
The rest followed. Explanations and confessions. What two young people say to each other, and then think they are the first in the world to say it. And the rest was easy. Once the hill is climbed, and there is some honest talk at the top, and you can see where you’re going, the rest of the journey is easy.
Incidentally, they did go to Exmoor, to the border of Somerset and Devon. They saw the Exmoor ponies that are out in the fields winter and summer. They went to Oare, and they saw the little church with the box pews and the ten commandments on some old wood panels on the wall. They saw where Lorna Doone had been shot by Carver Doone during her wedding ceremony, and it rained all day, as it so often does on Exmoor, and they didn’t notice. Once they had done all that, they went through the usual steps of thinking about, talking about and finally organising a wedding of their own.
And the rest? Harvey found a job in a comprehensive school in Westington, which is on the coast and about 8 miles from Berringford. They married in Berringford church and bought a cottage in the village. No, it didn’t have a thatched roof but it was as beautiful as if it had. Berringford is in the heart of Somerset, where the Mendips peter out just before they reach the sea. From their bedroom window Anne and Harvey could see the Bristol Channel and beyond that, on a fine day, the hills of Wales. It was a village of apple trees, narrow lanes, and hills good for sledging.
Somerset is one of the happiest of English counties, and so it was for them, and no house is better than the house where you begin your married life, when you are short of money, full of energy, scrimping, saving, making do and with your whole life before you. It doesn’t matter what detached marvels with en-suite bathrooms or listed-building glories you may live in later, your first house together is the one that matters. To the cottage in Berringford they moved Anne’s few possessions. Harvey owned almost nothing, little more than a few books, some records and his rugby boots. He had travelled light through life. Between them they made a start.
Little by little they created a garden. Like so many cottage owners over the years, they were short of time and space but that is how the best gardens are made. Good gardeners thrive on difficulties.
They painted the walls of the cottage and then the old wooden windows, and they planted potatoes and runner beans. One’s first row of runner beans! There is nothing in life to equal one’s first row of runner beans. ‘Never sell a house in Somerset without a good row of runner beans in the garden,’ Uncle Henry had said. ‘It will put pounds on the value!’ They also managed a fine row of sweet peas, and in their first autumn they made wine from the elderberries that grew in the hedge opposite their gate.