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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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An' there was wonderful pictures in it. One we

laughed at was of pigs pulling a plough. In France

that was. I told Ginger about it an' how it said

pigs is sensible and could be made to count. You know

what, Mrs Dimple?" Maggie now bit on her

lip, and became thoughtful. "Perhaps that's why he picked on that book because I told him about pigs

bein' clever."

"Don't be daft, girl. How could he pick

on it if he couldn't read, your readin' hasn't

given you sense. That's evident."

"But he'd seen the book, Mrs Dimple, when

our Polly gave it back to Master Charlie, an'

he would know it "cos it was big an" in a black cover."

Fanny stared at Maggie for a moment; then

shaking her head impatiently, she said, "Aw,

let's get on ... Listen! there's the

bell, and he's knockin' hell out of it. He can't

wait to stuff himself now in order to give his right arm strength. God blast him! And He will one of these

days, I'm tellin' you." Fanny now stabbed her

finger towards Maggie. "He won't be mocked, not

God, he'll get his deserts, him in there." Her

arm now swung in the direction of the green-baized

door. "An' I hope I'm here to see it.

I'll dance on his grave, I will that."

Eeh! the things Mrs Dimple said. Maggie

shook her head as she watched the older woman bang

the covered dishes on to the tray, saying as she did

so, "They had their breakfast served up on plates

at one time but now it's covered dishes to match the

greenbaized door. Eeh! the things one lives

to see. Get goin'!" She lifted the tray and

thrust it into Maggie's hand, and her final words sent

the girl scurrying towards the door: "I hope it

chokes him."

IT was said that there had been a farm at Moor

Burn for the past three hundred years but that the house in those bygone days had been little more than a

cottage. The land had been farmed from the earliest

times by a family named Morley, and for two hundred

and fifty years one Morley had succeeded

another, and as each prospered so he added his quota

to the house.

The last extension had been in 1840,

to accommodate the ever growing family of the then

present owner; but the fact that this man sired fifteen children and only two survived to reach thirty, and they both girls, tended to turn his mind, and he became

convinced there was a curse on the place for his Bible

showed that although there had never been more than two Morleys in any generation, the survivors up

till then had been male, so he decided to be gone

from the place.

It was about this time on a day in 1858 that

William MacFell came riding back from the

Scottish side of Carter Bar, accompanied by

his wife, after having attended her father's funeral.

And he was a happy man at that time, at least as

happy as his nature would allow-for his wife had come

in to a tidy sum of money.

It should so transpire that the trap they had hired

almost lost one of its two wheels just after they had

passed Kirkwhelpington, and it was Farmer

Morley's younger daughter who came upon them and led

them over the fields and along the paths to the farm, the freehold farm that was up for sale. It was

then that William MacFell decided to become a

farmer ... on his wife's money. When his wife

pointed out to him that it would be an utterly different life from working in a gentlemen's hatters, he had

replied briefly that that was precisely the reason

why he wanted to farm.

Christine MacFell had not protested against her

money being used in this fashion; she had given up

protesting years ago when she realized that her people had been right from the beginning and that she had lowered herself in marrying the hatter. Her idea of bringing out the real

man she imagined to be hidden beneath the taciturn skin had been a failure, a frightening failure, for what

had

emerged was an individual given to bouts of

ferocious temper, and it was this temper he used as a

weapon when thwarted in any way.

So the MacFells took up residence at

Moor Burn Farm and although you could walk in the

district for hours and not see a soul, and the houses were few and far between, William MacFell soon

became well known, Those in the big houses

scattered around ignored him, he was of less account

to them than one of their dogs; the real farmers laughed at him behind his back; the tradesmen served

him but with no respect, to them he was a jumped-up

nowt. Only the hands he engaged on the farm feared

him right-brace for gone was the security they had felt under Farmer Morley, because the present owner would, they knew, should they displease him, turn them out of their cottages on to the road without giving the matter a

second thought,

And then there was the cinder path.

The ashes from the fires in the house and from the piggery boiler had been strewn on the yard to sop up the

mud in bad weather, and over the years the remainder

had formed a sizeable mound behind the cow byres. The

byres were almost opposite the kitchen door, and, between them and the barn, was a

narrow passage that led out to an open space bordered

on two sides by a privet hedge where the cinders were

dumped, or at least where they had been dumped, for

one of the first things that William MacFell did was

to order his men to level the dump. He decided on

a path being made from the back of the byres where the

ground ran level, to where, thirty yards distant, it

sloped down towards the bum, beside which stood the tiny tworoomed dilapidated cottage.

When the mound of cinders was levelled, the path to the burn was only three parts made, but each

morning the maid of all work gradually lengthened it

by adding to it the huge buckets of cinders taken from the house.

Why, asked the farmhands of each other, did he

want a path leading down there? The stone cottage

would never be used again; and who wanted to go and look at the burn at that point where it was only a couple of

yards wide?

William MacFell didn't give his

reasons for taking the path down to the burn, but it

soon became evident that he had another use for it,

and the first example he gave of this was when he took his eight-year-old son by the collar, threw him on to the

cinders, and laid about his back with a birch stick.

That was the beginning.

Jimmy Benton was the next to experience what it

was like to be thrown on the cinder path. He was seven

years old at the time and scarecrowing on the farm.

Jimmy had at an early age developed a taste

for raw eggs; he had discovered they would keep him

going and would take the gnawing hungry feeling from his stomach.

The morning he stole two eggs from the hen cree

William MacFell caught him, and, taking the

eggs from him, he had without a word lifted him

up bodily by the scruff of the neck and, ignoring the

boy's flaying arms and legs . . . and howls, he

had thrown him on to the path where the cinders had torn at the palms of his hands and his bare knees. He had

thrown one egg after the other on to the back of the boy's head, then kicked him in the buttocks. The action

had lifted the child from his hands and knees and sent him sprawling flat out.

The boy's father had been for going and knocking hell

out of William MacFell, but the mother reminded him

that it was their livelihood, and after all the boy was only disscraped on his hands and knees.

With the youngsters on the farm, the

cinder path became a fear. The mothers in the

cottages no longer threatened the children with the bogey man, but with the cinder path. One thing the farm workers did say in favour of their master, he had no

favourites for the path for he treated his own son to an equal share of it.

Such are the quirks of nature that instead of

Edward MacFell hating his father, the boy admired

him and if he had ever really loved anyone it was his

male parent. His mother, to whom one would have expected him to turn, she being of a sympathetic and gentle

nature, he almost ignored. Perhaps it was because

subconsciously he sensed that she had no love for

him, for in character and looks he was the facsimile of her husband.

Edward MacFell was twenty-seven years old

when his father had died. William had left no will for the simple reason that he had imagined wills

precipitated death, and so according to law Edward was

entitled to twothirds of the estate and his mother

to onethird. That almost immediately the legal affairs were settled his mother should take her share and leave the farm to join a cousin in Scotland came as no surprise

to him; rather it afforded him a great deal of relief.

He was no

longer responsible for her; now he could look round

for a wife, a wife who was different but, like his mother, someone with a bit of class.

He knew only too well in what esteem his

father had been held in the surrounding countryside, and he set out to show them that he himself was different, that he was no ordinary tinpot little farmer, he was as good as they came in the country, and he was determined to make the farm an example for others because it contained some of the best pasture land in the county, besides fields that

yielded reasonable grains. Even Hal Chapman,

over in Brooklands, had had to admit there

wasn't another place like it For miles, and he was

an authority on land was Chapman.

Edward MacFell was thirty when he married, and

like his father before him he, too aimed high. In his case he went even further than his father for he chose

to honour the daughter of a Newcastle surgeon. The

surgeon had, the previous year, died, otherwise

it was debatable whether he would have countenanced the marriage. But his nineteenyear-old daughter Mary

Rye-Davidson was living under the guardianship of

an old aunt

and uncle, who seemed only too ready to be rid

of their frivolous fair-haired, blue-eyed charge,

and they congratulated each other on having spent their holiday in Hexham, where their niece had been

fortunate enough to meet the sturdy, prosperous farmer.

At what time after the marriage both Edward

MacFell and his wife, Mary, realized their joint

mistake neither of them could pinpoint, but it was well within the first six months.

For MacFelPs part, he realized he'd

married a scatter-brain, a woman who, if she

had been allowed, would have spent her time reading,

playing the harpsichord, and titivating herself up with new clothes. Now these things in their place were

all right for it proved that she was of the class, but that she had no intention of using her hands to cook or to help

in the dairy, and wasn't even capable of managing the

house, infuriated him, and for the first time in his life he began to appreciate his mother and her qualities that

had gone unrecognized during all their years together.

As for Mary MacFell, she was brought out of a

girlish dream to the realization that she had married, not a strong, silent lover, but a

man with a fiendish temper, and an egotistical

ignorant one into the bargain. During the first month of their marriage she playfully opposed him, but these

tactics came to an abrupt end when one day,

feeling bored, she dared, without asking his leave,

to take the trap and drive into Otterburn. On her

return he almost dragged her upstairs, What he

did was literally to tear the clothes from her back, then, his face red with passion, to thrust it close to hers as he growled at her, "You take anything on yourself like that again and begod I'll put you on the cinder path."

When her first child was born Mary MacFell

experienced a secret happiness. At his birth her

son looked like her, and as he grew he developed

more like her. He took on her tall, thin fairness;

the only difference in their features being his

eyes, which were round, while hers were oval-shaped, and whereas hers were blue, his were grey.

The contrariness of MacFell's nature made

itself evident again as he grew fulsomely proud of the

son who showed no resemblance to himself, yet when,

two years later, his wife gave him a daughter

who, as she grew, became a replica of himself,

both inside and out, he had little time for her. And again the oddities of nature came into play, for his small

dark daughter adored him,, while his son

secretly feared and hated him.

And never did Charles MacFell hate his father

more than at this moment when his eyelids compressed

themselves into a deep blink each time the cane came

down hard, not across Ginger Slater's narrow

buttocks, but across the backs of his knees, left

bare by his breeches being drawn upwards.

As the blows continued to make the small body

bounce on the cinders Charlie was unable to witness

any more, but as he went to turn away, run away,

he was brought to a stiff standstill by the sight of

Polly Benton emerging from the further end of the

hedge. Polly had one hand held tightly across her

mouth while the fingers of the other convulsively gathered up her print skirt until not only did

BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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