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THE CINDER PATH

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THE CINDER PATH

In this powerful novel the author brilliantly

portrays a man in search of himself, and tells a

story of exceptional dramatic force which carries the

reader from the rural Northumberland of Edwardian

times into the holocaust of the Western Front in the

First World War. And at the root of the matter is the

cinder path of Charlie MacFelPs boyhood

home; a place of harsh associations that would come

to symbolise the struggle with destiny itself.

Books by Catherine Cookson in the Ulverscroft

Large Print Series:

THE LONG CORRIDOR

THE UNBAITED TRAP

HANNAH MASSEY: FANNY McBRIDE

KATE HANNIGAN: THE MENAGERIE

THE NICE BLOKE

THE FIFTEEN STREETS

ROONEY: PURE AS THE LILY

SLINKY JANE: MAGGIE ROWAN

THE GARMENT: THE INVISIBLE CORD

THE GAMBLING MAN

THE GIRL: A GRAND MAN

THE LORD AND MARY ANN

THE DEVIL AND MARY ANN

LOVE AND MARY ANN

LIFE AND MARY ANN

MARRIAGE AND MARY ANN

THE CINDER PATH

OUR KATE (an Autobiography)

CATHERINE COOKSON

displus .

THE

CINDER

PATH

Complete and Unabridged

ULVERSCROFT

Leicester

First published in 1978 by William Heinemann

Ltd, London

First Large Print Edition

published June 1979

by arrangement with

William Heinemann Ltd

London

and William Morrow and Company Inc New

York

Catherine Cookson 1978

British Library GIF Data

Cookson, Catherine The cinder path. --

Large print ed. (ulverscroft large print

series: general fiction) I. Title

823".9'aF PR6053.0525CST

ISBN 0-7089-0308-8

Published by

F. A. Thorpe (publishing) Ltd

Anstey, Leicestershire

To the one and only to whom I owe so much

CONTENTS

PART ONE
Moor Burn Farm
PART TWO
Brooklands Farm
PART THREE
The War 1914
PART FOUR
Mud
PART FIVE
The End of War and The Beginning of the Battle
PART ONE
Moor Burn Farm

"BLESS the food on this table, Lord.

Bless my labour that has provided it

and give me strength for this day. Amen."

"Amen. Amen. Amen."

Before the echo of the last amen faded, Edward

MacFell was firmly seated in the big wooden

armchair at the top of the table, and during the seconds of silence that followed he screwed his heavy

buttocks further into the seat before, with an almost

imperceivable motion of his head, giving the three people standing behind their chairs permission to sit, and the elderly woman and young girl on their knees just inside the

door of the room permission to rise.

Sitting in silence facing her husband, Mary

MacFell wondered, and not for the first time, what would happen if she were suddenly to open her tight-lipped

mouth and scream. Yet she knew what would happen;

he'd drag her outside and throw her bodily into the

horse trough. And if this didn't restore her

to his

idea of sanity, he'd despatch her to the madhouse

and leave her there to rot, whilst he himself would continue here with his daily work as appointed by God.

Her husband and God were on the best of terms; in

fact she sometimes thought he handed out orders to God

for the day: "Now today, God, you'll not only clean the byres you will lime wash them; then you will clamp the

beet, all of it, mind, and you will do it yourself, don't expect Dawson or Ryton to give you a hand."

He always called people by their surnames, other farmers used Christian names. Over at Brooklands,

Hal Chapman always called his men Bob,

Ronnie, Jimmy. But not so Edward MacFell.

No, if God had a Christian name he would still have

addressed Him as God, not Bob, Ronnie, or

Jimmy. . . . Jimmy God. That was funny,

Jimmy God.

Her mind rarely offered her anything to laugh about for her sense of humour which had never been strong was

entirely blunted, but now a strange noise

erupted from her throat and brought all eyes on her.

Her husband's which seemed to have no white to them but to be made up entirely of a thick, opaque brown

substance that toned with his square weather-beaten face and thick shock of

Widark

hair which showed not a streak of grey for all of his

forty-eight years, were fastened hard upon her.

Her son's eyes, clear grey, held that

constant tenderness that irritated and annoyed her for it expressed his alienation from his surroundings and those of the immediate household, and this included herself.

She sometimes thought that her husband, in spite of

all his sly cleverness and his power, was ignorant and

blind because he could not see that there was no part of himself in his son, and that the education of which he was insisting his son have the benefit would, in the end, separate them. He thought to make his son a gentleman farmer, utterly

ignoring the fact that the boy, although born and bred on the farm, had no leanings whatsoever towards the land.

All he thought about was reading, and tramping the

countryside, at times like someone in a daze, or not

quite right in the head. Moreover, the boy at sixteen

was tall and fair and was as unlike his father in looks as he was in character. Yet she knew that her husband was inordinately proud of his son, almost as proud of him

as he was of his farm and his fifty acres of

freehold land.

Her daughter Betty's eyes, which were fixed tight

on her father, were a replica of his own, the

only difference being that the brown of the small irises was clear and there was a rim of white to be seen around their edges. Her nose, too, was the same as his,

not only long and thin but swelling to a knob at its

end; and her mouth, which as yet at fourteen was a

thick-lipped pouted rosebud, would undoubtedly

widen into sensuousness and become at variance with her other features.

She was startled into awareness by her husband speaking to Fanny Dimple. "Stop fumbling woman! And

what have I told you about those hands."

It shattered, too, the waiting silence at the

table. It was not a coarse or loud voice, nor

did it have a distinctive Northumbrian burr to it,

but it was a voice that always arrested its hearers. Those hearing MacFell speak for the first time, in most

cases, were unable to hide their surprise, for it was a cultured voice, melodious, belying his lack of

education and being completely at variance with the sturdy roughness of his body and features.

Edward MacFelPs eyes now travelled from

Fanny Dimple's gnarled work-worn hands to her

face where the loose skin was drawn

upwards by strands of her grey hair knotted tight

on the back of her head and hidden under a

white starched cap that had the appearance of a bonnet.

"If you can't keep your nails clean cut them

off down to the the quick, or I'll do them for you!"

"They're already at the quick, master."

The knife and fork almost bounced off the table, so

fiercely did he bang them down. "Don't dare

answer me back woman!"

His face consumed with rage, he glared at his

servant who had been maid of all work in the house

for years, and she, as if she had lost her senses, as

those at the table thought she had, glared back at him; then turning away, she lifted two bowls of

porridge from a tray that young Maggie Benton was

holding, and walked to the end of the table where she placed one bowl before her mistress and the other in front of her young master. Returning to the tray, she lifted the

last bowl. This she laid, none too gently this time,

in front of the only daughter of the house.

Now making no effort to quieten her withdrawal,

she went from the room into the long narrow hall lit

by two small windows, one at each side of the

front door, through a greenbaized

door and into the kitchen. And it was as she

turned to close this door that she gave vent to another bout of defiance. Stretching out her arms, she

grabbed the handle and thrust the door violently

forward.

An ordinary door would have made a resounding

crash, so fiercely had she thrust it, but the

green-baized door merely fell into place with a

muffled thud.

"Him and his gentry doors!"

The green-baized door was a recent

acquisition. When they were pulling down the old

manor house her master had gone there precisely

to buy the door, and afterwards had personally supervised Fred Ryton and Arnold Dawson as they hung it

in place of the scarred oak one.

Fanny now came to the table where Maggie Benton

was standing gaping at her, and the small girl took in a deep breath before exclaiming, "Eeh! Mrs

Dimple."

Maggie knew what had upset Mrs Dimple;

it was the cinder path; but to answer the master back, and him after only just saying grace. Eeh! She had

never known anything like it. Wait till she got

home and told them.

"He's a cruel bugger." Fanny was leaning

across the table, her jaw thrust out towards Maggie.

"Aye. Aye, he is, Mrs

Dimple." "He thinks he's God Almighty and

can scare the daylights out of you with just a look.

Well, here's one he can't scare. He's a

fornicatin' hypocrite, that's what he is. Him and

his mornin' prayers and havin' us kneel! Copyin'

the gentry again. I had to kneel with the rest of "em when I was at Lord Cleverley's; but there was

twenty-eight of us inside the house and he was a

gentleman, his lordship. But him back there, well,

he's a sin unto God and takes others with him.

An" you know what I mean, Maggie Benton,

don't you?"

Maggie turned her eyes away from the thrust-out

chin. Her head drooped. Yes, she knew what

Mrs Dimple meant; no one was supposed to know but

everybody on the farm knew. Except, she thought,

Master Charles and the missis. Even so she had her

doubts about the missis. She never really knew what

the missis was thinking, she was so quiet. There was one, though, she wished didn't know, but she knew that he

knew all right. Oh aye, he knew, her da

knew, you could see it in his face.

Her poor da. He wasn't long for the top.

She'd miss him when he went. But not as much as their

Polly would. Their Polly would go mad when

he died, "cos their Polly had looked after him for so long now. She had feelin's had their Polly, and

that had been proved again this morning 'cos eeh! look

how she had got upset about the cinder path and Ginger

Slater.

They all knew that Ginger Slater was for the cinder

path at nine o'clock, and that was the cruel part of it, Polly said, the waiting to be thrashed. If the master

had done it straight off when he had caught him

looking at the picture book again, Polly said,

she could have understood it, but to make him wait a whole day with his mind on it, it was like a sentence to be hung, she said.

Of course, being a workhouse lad, Ginger

expected to be badly treated, and it wasn't the first

time he had been on the cinder path, and all because of books. That was funny because, like everybody else who

lived on the farm and in the row, he had had the chance to go in the cart to school. He had gone for a time, but then the master, like all the parents, saw no need for so much schooling; in fact they were all dead against it,

especially the parents, for

it meant the loss of wages, so with one excuse and

another they kept them off most of the time. She herself had got off through a bad chest, but when she was

there she had learnt her letters and to read a little bit, but Ginger, who wasn't daft in any way, had never

picked up reading. The teacher had skelped his

backside raw, but still he couldn't read. And yet more

than any of them, he wanted to. Oh aye, he

did that; that's why he went after books; and that's why he was for the cinder path.

The only one who'd had any real schooling was their

Polly. Once when their da was a bit better she

had gone to school for over a year at one go, but when

he collapsed again and Bob the carrier died about the

same time that put an end to it, for she couldn't do the five miles each way for half-a-day's learning.

And she, too, wanted to learn; like Ginger, she

wanted to learn.

As if Fanny had been picking up her thoughts,

she said, "That lad's bright, he wants to learn; but how in the name of God did he get up to the attic

and get that story book!"

"He must have scaled the drainpipe."

"Aye, that's the only way. But why didn't

he ask Master Charlie, he'd have sneaked him a

book. I would have meself if I'd known he'd

wanted one so badly. But why anybody wants

to read I don't know, we learn enough bad

things by listenin" and lookin' without pickin' them up off a page."

"It wasn't a bad book, Mrs Dimple,

an' it was an old "un, it had all the weekly

Chatterboxes in it for 1895. Master Charlie

once lent it to our Polly, an" she read it out

to us: all about Mr Dickens an' his little Nell.

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