The Clovelly Wife
Martin Colwill dreaded the arrival of the last day of April 1950, the day that signalled the end of his five-year apprenticeship. Thereafter his changed circumstances could set him on a new path, one he didn’t wish to tread, especially when his marriage appeared to be heading into dangerous waters.
For the second time in five years he faced an unsettled future. As a teenager he had led a carefree life until, in the last months of the war, the responsibilities of adulthood crept up on him. On a raw March morning in 1945, Jed Peryam, the local telegraph boy, had knocked on the Colwill’s door and been met by Martin’s mother’s terrified look. Hands trembling, Maggie Colwill had read the telegram, clamped her free hand over her mouth and slid down the hall wall: Ralph Colwill was dead, shot in the head by a sniper in Italy. Sixteen-year-old Martin had grasped the badge of seniority pinned to his young chest and stepped into his father’s shoes. Money to support his mother and himself became a priority. A mediocre scholar, he knew he had to find employment that made use of his hands, not his head. Manual labour in Clovelly was scarce; the prospect of leaving the village had been very real. Then fortune had smiled on him. Abe Tremayne, a close neighbour, knew Martin to be personable and polite, cast in the same mould as Ralph. He had offered to take Martin on as his apprentice, apologising for the low pay on offer; given the dearth of work it was the best he could do. His face glowing with gratitude, Martin had thanked Abe and said the money was enough to get by.
A calling few would choose, shipwrights worked outdoors, often in inclement weather, in noisy and dirty conditions with the ever-present risk of accident from sharp tools and clumsy equipment. Martin had taken to it as if born with an adze in his hand, revelling in the opportunity to use his newly acquired skills, shaping creations from wood and metal and turning raw materials to useful form.
That morning, as troubled clouds scudded across a gunmetal sky, Abe and Martin busied themselves repairing Evening Breeze’s scuppers. The modest yacht belonged to Lionel Lyman, Clovelly’s landowner. Lionel had the notion that money could be made taking tourists to Lundy Island and his boat would be well suited to this purpose.
Shading his eyes with his hand, Martin gazed at the houses clustered on the steep hillside. His life was woven into the fabric of the village. He had no wish to be separated from the place he loved. Yet necessity threatened to elbow aside familiarity. The time would soon arrive for him to be his own man. Clovelly could not support two independent shipwrights.
If he had to leave would his wife go with him?