The weekend before Banks was due to return to hospital, the Skipper and Mrs Priestman came to visit. They were staying with Colin’s aunt, but they drove over in the Skipper’s red MG, arriving after lunch. Because Mr Bowles didn’t have a telephone, they could give no warning. Their unannounced arrival set off wild barking from Bessie and Sammy and brought Banks and Mr Bowles tumbling out of the house in excited surprise. Mr Bowles was beside himself with delight, and Banks had the impression that a visit from the king and queen wouldn’t have pleased him more.
Mrs Priestman smiled and kissed Banks on both cheeks as if his face were completely normal. “I’ve missed my visits to you!” she declared with every appearance of sincerity. “No one else in the squadron will talk about anything except Spitfires!”
The Skipper held out his hand. “How are you doing? You look rested.” His discerning eyes registered both the positive changes to the scar tissue and also pierced through the tortured flesh to the calmer man underneath.
“It is wonderful here,” Banks answered without reservation, making Mr Bowles glow with pleasure.
“The house is marvelous!” Mrs Priestman agreed, taking it in with knowing eyes. “Fifteenth century, is it?”
“Colin thought sixteenth, but we haven’t seen any evidence yet,” Banks answered.
“You show them around, while I make tea,” Mr Bowles urged, adding, “In weather like this, we’ll have it out in the yard.”
So, Banks took the Skipper and his wife inside, showed them the front sitting room and the lavatory, and then took them up the creaking stairs. Mrs Priestman expressed delight at nearly all she saw. She loved old buildings almost as much as she loved history.
“That’s Mr Bowles’ room,” Banks noted, waving his hand in the direction of the master bedroom, but not venturing into Mr Bowles private space. “And this is where I stay. In Ginger’s room.” He opened the door but stood back to let the guests file in.
Mrs Priestman was drawn to the window and the view across the moors. “How lovely!”
But the Skipper stopped in the centre of chamber, his head almost touching the low beams. Smiling faintly, he tapped one of the model aircraft hanging from the ceiling and sent it slowly circling. “Just like me,” he remarked softly.
They returned to the ground floor and went out the back door to find Mr Bowles busy laying tea things on an old picnic table in the cobbled yard. Mrs Priestman offered to help, but Mr Bowles wouldn’t hear of it, so they sat on the benches. Mrs Priestman’s eyes fell on the barn that sat at right angles to the house, partially enclosing the yard. “What a wonderful old barn! Do you use it for anything?”
“I don’t think so,” Banks admitted. He’d never gone into it nor seen Mr Bowles enter it either. They got up and wandered over.
“A barrel roof!” Mrs Priestman exclaimed with enthusiasm. “They’re so rare these days – most have been torn out or covered up! And the windows are original too, I think. Oh, look! The floor is flagstone. This is a gem!”
The pilots looked blankly at one another.
Mrs Priestman called Mr Bowles over. “This is a wonderful example of fifteenth-century rural Devon architecture. Is it listed?”
“With the National Trust.”
“But it’s just an old barn,” Mr Bowles replied, baffled. “When I was little, m’dad had three cows and our plough horse, Matty, in here. She was a sweet mare. Haven’t had any animals in here in thirty years, though.” He looked sadly across the room that still had four wooden stalls with troughs and a hayloft. Some old equipment stood in one corner.
“Have you ever thought of renovating it and turning it into a guest house, Mr Bowles?” Mrs Priestman asked. “It’s the kind of place where people would love to stay. You could turn the loft into the bedroom, put a small kitchen where the troughs are and make this whole area a cosy sitting room.” She expressed her enthusiasm with her expansive gestures. “May I climb up to the loft?” she asked.
“Of course, but the tea will get cold.”
“Oh, we don’t want that! We can have tea first, and I’ll have a look later. But I’m serious, Mr Bowles. I can think of a dozen people who would pay ten bob a night to stay in a place like this.”
Her husband laughed. “And if you don’t ask too many questions about the ‘wives’ they bring with them, they’ll pay you twice that.”
“Robin!” Mrs Priestman admonished in feigned shock.
They returned to the picnic table and settled down for tea and biscuits. Mr Bowles started chattering as he often did when he was nervous. “If I’d known you were coming, Mrs Priestman, I would have bought fresh scones from the tearoom in town. They make wonderful scones, and we could have asked Mrs Hollis, who lives just up the road a bit, for some of her home-made jam.” He talked on about the fresh produce they had and the healthy air and hunting, telling Robin he could come any time he wanted. “Nice partridges hereabouts and plenty of hare.”
The squadron leader demurred. “I’m afraid I never did develop a taste for shooting.”
“Unless it has swastikas on it,” Banks corrected, and they laughed.
“But others might like the hunting,” Mrs Priestman noted. “Think of Woody and Sutton. They always try to get in some shooting when they have time off. So, in addition to history buffs —”
“and illicit lovers” (From Robin.)
“—your guest house would attract bird hunters,” Mrs Priestman concluded.
“Bessie and Sammy would be in heaven,” Banks noted with a smile at his dog, who had flopped down beside him, panting.
“But who’d want to stay in a barn?” Mr Bowles protested.
“It would have to be renovated first, but you have all the skills to do it yourself,” Banks pointed out, the plans already forming in his head. “I can finance the materials and you can pay me back from the income.”
“But I’d need someone to clean for the guests.”
“Didn’t Mrs Wells say she was looking for more work?”
“But it’s so far away from everything and it hasn’t got a telephone,” Mr Bowles pointed out.
“Now that is the greatest advantage yet!” the Skipper proclaimed. “I’d pay almost anything to stay somewhere where there isn’t a telephone.”
“We could make it a joint venture, Mr Bowles,” Banks persisted seriously. “I’ll finance the cost of renovation and set up a joint bank account. That way we can keep the accounts straight.” Banks was confident he would be the only one keeping an eye on the accounts and that, in this way, he could make the odd deposit without Mr Banks noticing. It would help Mr Bowles get back on a sound financial footing.
Mr Bowles looked towards the old barn. “It would be nice to have people here now and again, if you don’t think they’d find it too primitive?”
“We will have to put in plumbing,” Banks conceded.
“What about electricity?”
“No, oil lamps and candles are much more romantic,” the Skipper insisted.
“Mr Bowles,” Banks leaned forward and looked at him intently. “If this is a success, do you know what we’ll do?”
The older man shook his head.
“We’ll establish a memorial scholarship to Cranwell in Ginger’s name. A scholarship for young men, like him, who didn’t go to public school and whose parents can’t afford the tuition fees.”
“What does that mean?” Mr Bowles asked.
“It means that young men like Ginger, who would have liked to be commissioned in the RAF but cannot afford the tuition at Cranwell will get a scholarship that covers their tuition as long as they meet the requirements and pass the requisite exams. We will finance that with the money we earn from the guest house.” Banks explained. “We’d call it the Ginger Bowles Scholarship, and everyone who applies will hear about Ginger.”
“They’ll put up a brass plaque with the names of each year's winner,” the Skipper assured him.
“A plaque with an engraved picture of him, perhaps,” Mrs Priestman joined in, with a glance at her husband to be sure she wasn’t saying anything she shouldn’t.
“You think we could make that much money?” Mr Bowles clearly couldn’t believe it.
Banks didn’t believe they could either, but that wasn’t the point. He had other ideas for raising the money for the scholarship. Out loud he merely said, “I don’t know, but it’s a goal to work towards, don’t you think?”
“Ginger would like the idea,” Mr Bowles admitted hesitantly.
“Yes, he would,” the Skipper agreed.
Mr Bowles looked from one to the other and then to Mrs Priestman. “You really think people would pay money to stay in my old barn?”
“Absolutely, if you get it done up! We’ll be your first guests.” She took her husband’s burn-scarred hand as she spoke.
Mr Bowles, still looking a little bemused and skeptical, finally nodded and agreed. “Well, then, if you think we might raise the money for something that would be a memorial to Ginger, then I’d like to try.”
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