Authors: Graham Adams
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Europe, #France
‘So Harry, where is Sally now?’ Edmund asked.
Harry got up out his chair, opened the door, and lying across the doorstep in the sunshine was a beautiful Border collie. ‘Come,’ he said, and she ran to his side and sat close, looking up as if she was awaiting a command. ‘Where do you live Edmund?’
‘I have a little cottage on the edge of Hordle, it’s a bit remote, but that’s how I like it’ Edmund answered.
‘Are you on your own?’ Fay asked.
Edmund smiled, sensing the ‘soft’ interrogation that he was under. ‘Yes I’m on my own, I’m semi-retired and my wife is in twenty four hour care in a private home in Edinburgh.’
He felt that he had said too much to them, but then again he wasn’t used to telling people about his circumstances. In this case however it seemed the right thing to do considering the couple’s current plight.
Harry placed his hand on the soft head of Sally and started unconsciously to stroke her smooth fur. ‘Edmund, I know that we’ve only just met, but you seem the right person to ask this. I don’t mean to be pushy but would you be willing to take Sally here on a holiday in Hordle, just for a week. She’d be no trouble for you and I am sure you two would really get on, what do you say?’
‘Well..Er, I think.’ .Edmund stuttered and then smiled. ‘Sally come here girl!’ The collie ran over immediately wagging her tail furiously, sitting right up to his leg and responding well to the fussing. ‘What is she like in cars, Harry?’
‘She just loves cars, Victor had an open-top BMW and she wouldn’t let him go anywhere without her.’ Harry answered with a broad smile.
Edmund was looking furiously for any reason why she shouldn’t come home with him, meanwhile he was unconsciously stroking the dog’s silken coat.
‘Look, I’m very tempted with your offer, what about her settling in a new home, do you think that will be ok?’ He asked.
‘Let me say this to prove that she will be ok, Edmund. Get out of your chair, go outside and get into your car, and then shout come! And let’s see what happens.’ Harry suggested. ‘If there is any problem, well, we aren’t going anywhere, just bring her back’
Edmund did exactly as Harry suggested, and in a flash the collie was sitting up straight in the passenger seat of his Morgan, barking loudly and looking straight ahead. He looked back at Harry and Fay for a moment, started up the car, and drove down the lane. The couple were fading in the rear mirror waving as Sally barked all the way down the lane!
Return of the favour
Louis was knocking on his front door just before ten that night. It was quite dark with dimly lit street lights on. The local pubs were all on the ‘last orders’ before closing and the whole area was busy with weekend revellers. He waved to his best friend Danny, grateful that his bigger pal had taken the trouble to walk him home. Pushing through a drunken crowd intent on getting to the next pub for a last pint before closing time was bad enough, but being small and having a pronounced limp would at best cause attention or at worst, ridicule.
As his father opened the front door for him, the strong smell of salt and vinegar met his nostrils and he smiled at his dad in anticipation. Friday night had been fish and chip night for as long as he could remember. All the events of the evening had filled his mind as he walked home, but right now they had little significance as he savoured the thought of his favourite hot supper. He pulled his coat off and threw it on the couch and he rushed to the table where the meal was hiding in the greaseproof paper, in the same state as when his father had purchased it from the local shop.
Henry had learned not to pester the boy as he ate his supper, after twelve years of being both father and mother to him, with no one to share the load with his upbringing. And yet as the boy got older they were also becoming friends. He knew that Louis would tell him when he was ready. There was a sort of respect between them that they thrived on. In only a few minutes Louis was sitting in his pyjamas on the couch clutching his cocoa and he positively glowed. Henry kept a sharp eye on him as the boy fought to keep his eyes open. He could see that the mug was slipping out of his hands, so he gently relieved him of it, put it on the table, and guided him gently to his bed. Tomorrow was going to be busy enough for him, Henry thought.
Henry was immensely proud of his son. Homework was done almost as soon as he returned from school. In the summertime this usually left his son time to see his friend Danny for an hour at the Tripe Shop on the high street. But on Saturdays, sometimes Henry just couldn’t believe how industrious Louis was, which made him prouder than ever. He did three paper rounds that day: at seven he was at Reynolds paper shop, two doors away from Scattergood’s. His bag was full of deliveries for his ‘round’, rain or shine. The second ‘round’ would be a repetition of the first one, doing the cash collecting, recording and then finally ‘tallying up’ back at the shop. Mr Reynolds knew Henry well and often remarked to him how clever the boy was. The best ‘tally-upper’ he had ever employed and he hardly ever got the money wrong.
After a few hours break Louis would be back at Mr Reynolds shop, picking up two types of evening paper and the ’Green un’, locally called, as it was in the business of reporting the day’s football results. How they got the results printed in such a short time after the end of the matches was nothing short of a miracle! All the hopes and dreams of the majority of the local men folk was pinned on the ‘Green un’. Fortunes were won or lost on the pools betting, each man searching for the drawn matches. Of course no one ever won the jackpot, but that never deterred anyone.
All this effort was to produce pay of the princely sum of ten shillings, always paid as a crisp note. The money itself was not the reason Louis did the rounds, it was what it represented. Ten shillings was equal to the rent that had to be paid for their little dwelling and so handing the note over to his father, and watching his face has he received it, gave Louis the greatest pleasure. Even at such a tender age the son was aware of the sacrifices his father had made for him. This act then, was his way of saying thank you and I love you.
This happy relationship he shared with his father came into sharp perspective when Louis walked his round collecting the payments. The area he covered was not too far from where they lived. Even if their own home was humble, a few streets away he witnessed much worse. Half way down one of his streets there was a number of ‘prefabs’ about twenty in a tight circle formation. After the war many councils were forced to erect small prefabricated houses as a short term solution for the acute housing problem. They were really just square huts that were stifling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Some of the tenants had made their homes quite attractive with flowers in the garden and a painted fence in front.
Some of the other tenants, however, were quite the opposite, the little front ‘garden’ was nothing but scrap and rubbish left to rot. Louis often felt a little apprehensive as he approached the dirty, and sometimes open, front door. He could hear the shouting and screaming of children. As he knocked timidly on the door, a scruffy woman would appear, holding a baby and with two or three other urchins hiding behind her skirts, filthy and dressed in rags. On occasions he would ask for the money and she would shake her head, and he would walk away empty handed. There were times when he ticked the entry in the book and paid it himself, not telling Mr Reynolds.
What Louis did not know however, was that Mr Reynolds was aware of what he did. He went round himself to the non payer, get the money out of the man of the house, and then pass that money on to Henry. It was enough to make his father shed a tear, how could a boy like his be so kind, he often thought to himself.
This particular Saturday Louis was trudging on his round early in the morning feeling a bit more tired than usual after his late night. All the time he had on his mind the old woman he had met at the Circus. Early on he couldn’t remember her name, then suddenly it came to him and he shouted out loud
‘Magda, that’s it!’
‘Magda? Who’s that you’re on about my lad?’
One of his customers asked. He must have overheard him as he opened the door to take the Saturday paper.
‘Just thinking out loud’ he answered.
He had made his decision to go and visit the old woman after his collection round in the afternoon, and started it early so that he would have time to get back. He did decide to pop in to Scattergoods and let his dad know where he was going, but so as not to worry him, he planned not to say too much until he had returned from seeing Magda.
Louis had finished adding up his collection takings at the shop, and received his pay, pushing it carefully in his trouser pocket. It was just midday. He was about to enter Scattergood’s shop, then he caught sight of Danny and his sister across the High Street deep in conversation. He was about to shout to them but stopped himself. Louis bit his lip and really felt guilty for a moment, not calling, but he knew that if he had to explain to Danny where he was going, it could make him late. He decided to visit Danny on Sunday and tell him all about his adventure then.
Fortunately the shop was quiet and he caught his dad leaving his counter just about to take his lunch break. Henry noticed that his son was a little agitated so he led him outside in the sunshine, around the corner and they sat together on a bench on the pavement.
‘Well son, what’s on your mind?’
‘It’s about last night at the circus, something happened.’
Louis explained to his dad how he helped an old lady who was hurt by a horse that had gone out of control. The men were chasing the horse and he helped the lady by making a bandage for her leg that was bleeding.
‘Well done son’ Henry said proudly.
‘That’s not it dad I couldn’t stay with her as I went to see the circus, but before I left her in her little house, she made me promise to go and see her today. Is that ok dad?’
Henry looked at his son, and then gave him the biggest hug. ‘I think you should go, if only to see if she is alright. If she offers you a reward, in this case I say you can accept it because of the kind help you gave her. You know what I told you about accepting rewards, I don’t like it but I think that this is a special case. Understand? The boy nodded. ‘Then go with my blessing.’
Louis took a much quicker route to the site of the circus at Victoria Park, avoiding the steep High Street. In less that fifteen minutes the Big Top was in sight, although out of breathe he was relieved to be there with his father’s approval. The memories of the previous night came flooding back as he began to weave around the tightly parked caravans, taking no notice of the garish paintings on them. He had in his mind’s eye the small humble one that the old lady lived in. Having passed the fifth large van, he was aware of music coming from an open window. As he approached, the music compelled him to stop and listen, it was as if he had heard it before, yet it was hypnotic, he couldn’t think straight.
‘What are you doing here boy?’ A deep sonorous voice spoke into his ear.
Expecting to see a big man to match the voice, he automatically looked up and around but there was no one like that. Suddenly he noticed, shorter than himself, a thick-set man standing in front of him, blocking his path. He didn’t look too friendly as Louis stammered.
‘I’m looking for Magda. She wants to see me. Can you show where her caravan is?’
‘Yes, I know Magda, everyone knows Magda, and I’ll take you if you tell me what she wants to see you for.’ The midget, although short, looked very powerful and threatening to Louis, yet he had despite this, regained his composure.
‘I don’t know what she wants, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you anyway’ the boy stuck his chin out in defiance.
‘Oh wouldn’t you now?’
The midget folded his very hairy muscle bound arms across his broad chest, and then the heavy eyebrows lifted and Louis detected a smile under the black curly goatee beard.
‘My name is Ogobi and my fine young man what is yours?’ He still stood across the boy’s path.
‘It’s Louis.’ He answered.
‘Louis eh, is that fourteenth or fifteenth?’ Ogobi asked with a deep roar of laughter. ‘Come, I will take you to Magda, but you heed my warning, be very careful.’
‘Why is that?’ Louis asked him.
Ogobi was already striding away waving his thick arms for the boy to follow him. As it happened, they only had to walk about fifty yards and soon his guide was pointing at Magda’s little door. The squat little man watched intently as Louis knocked on the caravan door, but as soon as it opened, he scuttled away out of sight.
‘Come in, come in my little boy, and sit on that chair. She pointed to the wicker chair. I am happy that you came today, you didn’t tell anyone did you?’ She asked a little threateningly.
The question worried Louis for a moment. He felt that the old woman didn’t want him to say anything to anyone about his visit, but he was glad that he had told his father.
‘No, I didn’t’ he answered.
Magda came up close to him ‘You didn’t? You never told anyone?’
Louis felt guilty that he had told his father where he was going, but no one else, so he stood his ground.
‘No one, anyway why don’t you want anyone to know?’
Magda lowered her head for a moment then spoke to him in a softer tone. ‘Forgive me dear boy, I meant no harm especially to you, I mean a good boy should always tell his father where he is going, it’s the right thing to do eh?’
She gave him a toothless grin, not a pretty sight. Louis was now less tense and not a little surprised that the old woman knew he was lying, but the air of tension had receded between them.
‘How is your leg, the one I bandaged up yesterday?’ Louis asked. She moved the heavy black frock to one side revealing both shins. ‘Which leg was it? He asked. ‘I can’t see where the cut was, Magda.’
The old woman looked at the perplexed boy and smiled. ‘Never mind about that dear boy, tell me about what you have been doing today.’
Louis recounted his Saturday morning to her, and he spoke about the plight of some of his customers and how he felt sorry for them, especially their children. Then he told her about his best friend Danny, and how he stands by him when sometimes he gets picked on because of his disability. Magda urged him to say more about himself, and somehow it felt very easy to tell her.
‘I never knew my mother. Dad told me that she died giving birth to me. I think she came from France. I love my father and he loves me. We never argue and he never tells me off.’
Magda raised her bony hand to Louis and he stopped talking. ‘Now my little Louis, I want you to listen carefully to my words. ‘Do you have anything that you treasure in that pocket there?’ She pointed to the shorter of his legs.
He rummaged in his pocket. ‘I only have this. I do treasure it as I was paid this by Mr Reynolds today.’