Together We Stand – Episode 01

Over Llandudno Bay, the sun shone brightly. The curve of hotels along the promenade gleamed, while on the beach, families drawn in by the new railways from London and Birmingham lazed in the summer warmth, or took wooden rowing boats out into the wide sweep of the bay.

Tanwen Phillips paused, her hand on the gate of the Bron Derw guest-house, set on a rise between the promenade and the gardens of Happy Valley, given to the people of Llandudno in the old Queen’s time.

Already the paint was peeling, she noted sadly as she looked up at the towers of the Victorian façade, with the expanse of the Great Orme rising up behind.

The windows had a slight grubby sheen, despite the brightness of the day, and the garden on each side of the path was overgrown.

She remembered it as a happy place, bustling with visitors eager to take a boat ride down the coast to Anglesey and the mediaeval town of Conwy.

The Bron Derw had seen its fair share of gentlemen painters and lady botanists in its time, some braving the ride up the Conwy Valley to the wilderness of Snowdon itself, trusting life and limb to the services of a mountain guide.

Today the house lay silent, and more than a little forlorn.

The front door was ajar, allowing the sounds of whistling to emerge from inside. There was no going back.

Tanni took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and strode up to the door.

“Good morning?” she called into the dark cool of the hallway. The whistling ceased. “Mr Gillingham?”

“Just one moment,” a voice echoed from the wooden staircase winding its way high above.

There was a clatter of boots, followed by a young man of about thirty, with dark hair and brown eyes, making his way towards her, two steps at a time.

“How can I help? The guest-house is not open for business, I’m afraid.”

“I have an appointment,” Tanni said uncertainly. “With Mr Gillingham.”

“Good lord.” Henry Gillingham blinked, an unmistakeable look of dismay crossing his face.

Tanni fought down a blush of mortification rising to the roots of her hair, and clenched her fists.

He could think what he liked about a young woman arriving unaccompanied on his doorstep. No doubt every unmarried woman he had ever met had been accompanied by a chaperone, but she was a girl who’d found it hard enough to beg for an hour’s leave, not to mention the loss of wages, to make this appointment at all.

Besides, the gossip flying through the town over the past weeks had declared the new owner of the Bron Derw to be a successful businessman who had lived in New York for years.

In her mind’s eye she had seen an elderly, white-haired gentleman, with a comfortable round belly and a smart watch chain, who would be no threat at all to her reputation.

She raised her chin. All of Llandudno knew she was a respectable young woman. If Mr Gillingham chose to judge her otherwise, she wasn’t remaining here under his disapproving gaze.

“If it’s not convenient –”

Henry Gillingham cleared his throat. A look of discomfort replaced the dismay.

“I’m sorry, Miss Phillips, how rude of me. I was expecting someone rather different. I’d understood you had been my uncle’s nurse for twenty years.”

“That’s my mam. My mother,” Tanni corrected herself hastily. “I came with her sometimes to help. Mr Samuel used to like to tell me about his adventures.”

He smiled with a mixture of sadness and affection.

“That sounds like Uncle Samuel. I understand he led a fascinating life.”

“Yes,” Tanni replied.

She’d seen a shadow of that smile on Mr Samuel’s face when he’d spoken of the past and his time in the Crimean War.

She fought down the tears that still came when she thought of the frail old man whose face had lit up each time she had accompanied Mam, and who had told her so many tales, setting her imagination alight.

Henry scratched his head.

“My sister accompanied me today, but she has left for a meeting of her own in Llandudno. If you would prefer to return another day . . .”

Tanni stifled her exasperation. If it was his reputation he was worried about, that could definitely take care of itself.

Curiosity overcame her. This might be her one chance to understand the cryptic message that had brought her here and she wasn’t about to walk away.

“I’m sure there’s no impropriety in a brief conversation,” she said. “I’m expected back at work soon.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.