Authors: Margaret Dickinson
Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas, #Historical, #Romance, #20th Century, #General
Kathy pulled on her wellington boots and tied a headscarf over her blonde hair and under her chin with a quick, angry movement. She pulled open the back door of the farmhouse and, walking through it, slammed it behind her so that it shuddered on its hinges, the wood creaking in protest. Immediately, she regretted her action. Her mother deserved an extra few minutes in bed if anyone did. Especially after last night.
Pale fingers of a frosty dawn crept across the yard as she marched, hands thrust into her pockets, across the cobbles towards the cowshed. The cows had already been fetched from the field and her father’s only greeting was, ‘You’re late.’
‘You call half past six on a winter’s morning “late”?’ Kathy snapped, her blue eyes bright with resentment.
She banged the lower half of the byre door, making the cows move restlessly. Ben, their collie, ran to her, tail wagging, tongue lolling. She bent and gave him a friendly pat. She wouldn’t vent her ill temper on him.
‘Ya’d be able to get up in a morning if ya went to bed the same time as decent folk.’
‘I was home before midnight. And you’d no right to lock me out so that Mam had to come down and let me in.’
‘I lock up every night at ten. If you’re later than that, then I want to know. And I want to know why, an’ all.’
‘I went to the St Valentine’s dance in the village hall. You know that. I did – ’ her tone took on a sarcastic note – ‘ask permission.’
‘Aye, ya asked your mam because ya knew ya could wheedle your way around her. And don’t use that tone of voice with me, my girl, else—’
‘Else what?’ Her eyes sparked rebellion and her small, neat chin jutted with determination. Two pink spots that had nothing to do with the cold morning burned in her cheeks. ‘You’ll take your belt to me? I’m a bit old at nineteen.’
Her father, shoulders permanently hunched, carried a bucket full of fresh, warm milk to the end of the cowshed. Pausing as he passed her, he thrust his gaunt, lined face close to hers. ‘You’re not of age until you’re one and twenty, and until then ya’ll do as I say or else . . .’
She faced him squarely, but her voice was quiet as she said, ‘What, Dad? Just tell me what the “or else” is?’
‘Ya can pack ya bags and go,’ he growled. ‘I’ll not have a chit of a girl back-answering me in me own house.’
‘Very well, then,’ Kathy nodded calmly. ‘I’ll go. I’ll go this very day – if that’s what you want.’
For a moment Jim Burton stared at his daughter. Then he gave a sarcastic, humourless laugh. ‘Oh aye. And where would ya go, eh?’
‘Lincoln,’ Kathy said promptly.
‘And what d’ya plan to do there, eh? Ain’t no cows in Lincoln. And that’s all you’re good for, girl.’
Kathy nodded slowly. ‘Yes – yes, I have to admit you’re right there. But that’s down to you, isn’t it? Making me leave school the minute I was old enough. Setting me to work on the farm for no pay—’
‘Pay? What d’ya need paying for? Ya’ve everything you need.’
‘Need, maybe. Want – no.’
‘Who’s been putting fancy ideas in your head, girl?’ He eyed her keenly, his dark eyes narrowing. ‘Is it your mother?’
Now Kathy laughed aloud. ‘Mam? Put ideas like that into my head? Don’t make me laugh. As if she’d dare, for a start.’
Jim grunted. He was thoughtful for a moment, dismissing his idea as nonsense. The girl was right. His wife wouldn’t dare make any such suggestion. ‘Then it’s that chit of a Robinson girl. Flighty piece, she is.’
Kathy hid a smile. Amy Robinson was the only real friend she had. And Jim wasn’t done yet. ‘No better than she should be, that girl.’ He’d seen Amy only the day before with a boy in the copse between his land and the Robinsons’ farm. ‘Up to no good they were, I’ll be bound.’ And after evening milking he’d marched across the fields to warn his neighbour that his daughter was going the right way to ‘get ’ersen into trouble, if you ask me’.
For once, the mild Ted Robinson had been stung to retort, ‘Well, no one’s asking you, Jim Burton, and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to ya’sen. I trust my daughter. She’ll come to no harm. What’s a kiss and a cuddle in the woods, eh? We’ve all been young once, haven’t we?’ Ted had paused then and eyed his irate neighbour. ‘Mind you, I have me doubts if you was ever young, Jim. Born old, I reckon you were.’
‘Oh, so that’s what you think, is it? Just because I’ve worked hard all me life and done me duty. Where’d me family’s farm have been by now, eh, if I hadn’t worked from the minute I was old enough?’
Ted’s anger had died as swiftly as it had come. ‘Aye, I know, Jim, I know. You’ve not had it easy with your dad dying when he was fifty and you having to take on the farm so young. And then losing your poor mam only a few years later in that dreadful flu epidemic of ’eighteen, but—’ Ted Robinson had put his hand on the other man’s shoulder. ‘Look, Jim, I don’t want to fall out with you. We’ve known each other a long time, but if you’ll take my advice, you’ll ease up a bit on that lass of yourn. If you don’t allow the youngsters to have a bit of fun now and again, then they’ll take it anyway, whether you like it or not.’
Jim had shaken off Ted’s friendly gesture. ‘And I’ll thank
not to interfere with the way I bring
daughter up. She’ll do as she’s told else she’ll feel the back o’ me hand. And sharpish.’ With that he had tramped back across the fields, his anger still simmering and bursting into rage when he found that Kathy had already gone out to a village dance.
‘What d’you let her go for?’ he’d thundered at his wife. ‘Did I say she could go? Did I?’
‘Well, no, Jim, but I th-thought it wouldn’t matter. Just this once. They always have a d-dance in the village hall the Friday night after Valentine’s Day . . .’ Edith Burton had stammered, her faded eyes fearful, her thin face creased into lines of perpetual anxiety. Although still only in her late thirties, the harsh life she was forced to lead had taken its toll. Her shoulders were rounded in a permanent state of submission and her hair was prematurely grey. Kathy was the only brightness in Edith’s cold and cheerless life. As a naïve nineteen-year-old girl, the youngest of five daughters of a hardworking farm labourer, marriage to Jim Burton, who’d inherited Thorpe Farm at the age of twenty, had seemed too good to be true. It was – as poor Edith had soon found out. She’d long ago realized she did not love her husband and she doubted now that he’d ever really loved her. She wondered if he’d ever known the real meaning of the word ‘love’. All he’d wanted, after the death of his mother, was a housekeeper and someone to give him an heir. He’d picked Edith, thirteen years his junior, thinking that she would be sufficiently strong for farm work and healthy enough to bear him a son. But after the birth of their daughter, Edith had been told she should have no more children. Jim Burton’s interest in her had ceased totally. Since that time, he’d treated her no better than he would a servant and while they still slept in the same room, in the same double bed for the sake of convention, all intimacy between them had ceased years ago.
‘Valentine’s! Sentimental rubbish! Don’t you let her out again without my permission, d’you hear?’
‘Yes, Jim,’ Edith had said meekly.
Now, as Jim argued with his daughter in the cowshed, all his frustration and resentment surfaced again. Deep down, he envied his neighbour. Why couldn’t he have found himself a wife like Ted’s? Betty Robinson was, in Jim Burton’s eyes, the perfect farmer’s wife. She was a superb cook and a helpmate about the farm, while his own wife hardly lifted a finger to help him with the outside work. And it wasn’t as if she was even a good housewife. Edith was a poor cook. Some of the meals she had placed before him in the early days of their marriage had been scarcely edible. And she barely kept the house clean. Edith was not a bit like his dear, house-proud mother. Sarah Burton must be turning in her grave. Oh, he’d made a bad mistake in marrying Edith. He’d not realized she’d been spoiled and cosseted by her parents and older siblings. She’d never been taught how to keep house or to cook. And that wasn’t her only fault. She’d failed to give him a son like Betty Robinson had given her man. He remembered the surprise the whole village had felt at Maurice’s birth. No one had even known that Ted’s new wife had been expecting, until, all of a sudden, there was Betty proudly wheeling the little chap around the village in a huge black perambulator. It wasn’t until five years later that Amy Robinson had been born, only two months after Jim’s own daughter. And then, when the doctor told him the devastating news that it would be dangerous for Edith to have more children, the resentment had begun. Not bearing him a son had been Edith’s greatest failing in her husband’s eyes.
Jim’s envy of the Robinsons made him critical. While part of him wanted to ally his daughter to that family by her marriage to Maurice, another devious and embittered part of him half hoped that one day Ted’s perfect life would be shattered. And now he knew how that might happen.
‘That lass – ’ he jabbed his forefinger towards Kathy as he spoke of her friend again now – ‘would do well to knuckle down and help her father on his farm, instead of acting like a whore with all and sundry. He’s too soft with her, but then, of course – ’ Kathy held her breath, knowing exactly what was coming next – ‘Ted Robinson’s got a son to help him.’ Jim turned away with a swift, angry movement, slopping milk over the edge of the bucket.
Kathy’s gaze followed her father for a moment, feeling a mixture of emotions. Just now and again she could find it in her heart to feel sorry for him. His disappointment in being blessed – or in his eyes cursed – with only one child, and a daughter to boot, was understandable, she supposed. It was a frustration he’d never tried to conceal, and Kathy had been aware of it for as long as she could remember. It never occurred to her father that Thorpe Farm, which had been in his family for four generations, could pass to a woman.
But Kathy’s feelings of compassion lasted only a moment and her own resentment surfaced again. Adopting the same sarcastic tone he’d used, she said with deceptive mildness, ‘I thought you liked the Robinson family. You’re always trying to marry me off to Morry to give you a grandson.’
‘Ya could do a lot worse,’ Jim growled.
Yes, Kathy thought, I could. Morry Robinson was a nice lad but he had no ambition, no dreams to fulfil. He was perfectly content to work on his family’s farm for the rest of his life. He didn’t care if he never saw the world outside the farm gate. He even avoided trips to the local market town if he could. And as for visiting a city or – heaven forbid – London, well, he’d likely die of fright at the mere thought. Kathy smiled at the thought of Morry. She liked him. Of course she did. You couldn’t help but like Morry. Everyone did. He was plump and cuddly like a teddy bear, with big, soft brown eyes, reddish brown hair and a round face liberally covered with freckles. She’d danced with him last night, feeling his hand hot on her waist and returning his shy, lopsided smile with kindness. He was the sort of chap you couldn’t
like, couldn’t be cruel to, but as for marriage, well now, that was something very different. She could see her life mapped out so clearly if she were to marry Morry. Years and years of working on a farm from dawn to dusk. Oh, she liked the Robinson family – loved them, really. Amy was her best friend – had been since school. Ted Robinson was a darling of a man and his plump and homely wife, Betty, always had a smile of welcome for anyone who called. A cup of tea and a sample of her latest batch of baking were always readily on offer. There were constant laughter and playful teasing in Betty’s kitchen and her energy was boundless. Just watching her made Kathy feel tired. The whole Robinson family, even Amy, was contented with their lot.
But it was not the sort of life Kathy wanted for the next fifty or sixty years. Not what she dreamed of. And her father had got it wrong. It was not Amy who was the flighty one, it was her. It was Kathy who yearned for the bright lights, for excitement and to see a bit of the world. But now, for once, she wisely held her tongue. She said no more and went to the end of the byre to milk the cow in the end stall.