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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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mind with young Polly.

When they reached the alleyway they parted without

further words, or even a nod, Arthur going on

towards the piggeries and Charlie cutting through into the main yard, there to be met by his father.

"Who was that laughing?"

"Me, Father."

Edward MacFelPs head moved slightly to the

side, his eyes narrowing just a fraction. This son of

his was sixteen years old and he couldn't recall ever

hearing him laugh out loud before.

"It must have been something very funny."

It was some seconds before Charlie answered. His

gaze fluttering away as if searching for something in the yard, he said, "Oh, 'twas only something silly

that Arthur said."

Edward MacFell waited to know the substance of

what Arthur had said but when it wasn't forthcoming he

didn't, as one would have expected of a man of his

type, bawl, "Well, out with it! If it was

a joke I would like to share it." What he said was,

"It was bound to be something silly if a Benton said it." Then stretching out his arm he placed his hand on his son's shoulder and, turning him about, led him towards

the end of the yard and on to a flagged terrace that ran along the front of the house, saying as he did so,

"Come and see what I've got in mind."

Standing on the edge of the terrace, he now lifted his

arm and pointed. "The burn down there where it widens, I've got the idea to dig out a tidy piece to form

a small lake; we'd be able to look down on it from

the parlour

window . . . What do you think of that?" Charlie

looked over the gently sloping piece of grassland

that led down to the burn. The idea surprised him.

A lake in front of the house. Immediately his mind

linked it with the green-baized door and the morning

prayers; but he could see no harm in it, so he said

pleasantly, "I think it would be very nice, Father."

"An addition to the house you think?" "Yes, oh yes." He nodded while still looking down towards the fast flowing narrow rivulet of water.

"And I'll have a stone seat built at the top

end where one can sit and look right away through the

valley." MacFell nodded to himself now as

he saw in his mind the grandeur of a lake and a stone

seat.

When his father's arm came round his shoulders Charlie

could not suppress a slight shudder and when, with an

unusual show of outward affection, he was pressed

to his father's side, he had an upsurging feeling of

revulsion.

"Come, there's something I want to talk to, you

about." MacFell now took his arm abruptly

away from his son's shoulder and

marched ahead off the terrace into the yard and up to the kitchen door.

After scraping his boots on the iron bar that stuck

out from the wall, he went into the kitchen, passing

Fanny and Maggie as if he wasn't aware of their

presence, through the green-baized door, across the hall in the direction of the stairs, then up a narrow

passage and into a small room that was almost filled

by a heavy ornate desk and a big leather chair,

both placed at an angle to the long narrow window.

At the near side of the desk was a smaller chair,

and the wall close behind this was almost taken up with a breakfront bookcase. There was no space for any

other furniture in the room.

"Sit down." MacFell pointed to the

chair, and slowly Charlie lowered himself into it. This wasn't the first time his father had had him in his office room to talk to him, but never before had he invited him to be seated. Whatever was about to be said must be of some importance.

When it was said, he was visibly startled.

After taking up a pen from the tray in front of him

and wiping the nib clean on a handworked square of

stained linen, MacFell jerked his head upwards,

looked straight at

his son and said, "Have you had a woman yet?"

As Charlie's lips parted, a valve was released

in his stomach sending out a great spurt of colour that not only tinted his pale face a deep red, but heated

all the pores of his body.

"Well! answer me, boy." MacFell was

smiling now. "There's nothing to be ashamed of either way. You needn't go into details, just say yes or

no."

"... No, Father." The heat was intensified, the colour deepened.

Once more MacFell wiped the pen nib, giving

it his attention as if it were the important issue of the moment; then again jerking his head upwards, he looked

at his son and said, "Well now, something should

be done about it, shouldn't it? This thing can be very

irritating and frustrating, and if the mind is

continually dwelling on it you won't be able to pay

attention to your school work, will you? So the quicker you get release from it the better."

Laying down the pen, MacFell moved his fingers

along the stem of it as if he were stroking fur, before he went on, "It's of no great importance but it

has its place in life . . .

mostly as an irritant." On the last words his

tone changed and his jaws visibly tightened. With an

impatient movement now he threw the pen on to the

brass tray, then drawing in a deep breath, he

leant against the back of the chair and asked, "Is there anyone who has taken your fancy roundabouts?"

Charlie gulped in his throat and his words came out

on a stutter as he said, "I ... I ha ... I

... haven't thought about it, Father."

MacFell gazed at him under his brows for a moment

and a slow smile spread over his face before he said

softly, "Well, it's about time you did, isn't

it?"

"dis . . Yes, Father."

"I'd go away now and think about it, and you can leave the rest to me."

Charlie rose from the chair as if he had been

progged with a spoke from underneath, but as he almost

scurried from the room he was brought to a standstill

by his father saying, "How do you like Victoria? . .

. Oh!" MacFell put his head back and

chuckled deeply as h-e added, "Don't look

like that, I wasn't intending you should start on her. No begod! not yet anyway. All I asked you was,

do you like her?"

"Yes . . . yes, she's all right."

"All right! Is that how you see her, just as, all

right? She's a handsome girl, lively, and comes from

good stock." The smile now slid from his face and his eyes took on that look that had frightened Charlie as

a boy, and still did, because he wasn't able to fathom

what it meant.

MacFelPs voice was stiff as, pulling a

sheet of paper towards him and picking up the pen again, he began to write, saying abruptly, "You're

going over to Brooklands this afternoon but be back here by five, not later."

Outside the office door Charlie stood for a

moment, his hand pressed tightly over his mouth. He

was feeling slightly sick. Whom would his father pick

for him? Not Maggie, she was but twelve.

Lily Dawson? She was fifteen but she was odd and

her nose was always running. He shuddered. There were

Nancy and Annie Ryton, they were twins; but they

worked over at Brooklands. That left only

Polly . . . No! No! never Polly.

As he crossed the hall his mother came out of the

sitting-room and, stopping in front of him, asked,

"What did he want you in there for?"

"He ... he told me I've got to go over

to Brooklands this afternoon."

"You knew that already. Come, what was he on about?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"He never takes anyone in there to talk about

nothing. Look, boy, tell me what he wanted you

to do."

He stared at her for a moment. What did his father

want him to do? Just, he supposed, what he wanted

to do himself, what he had wanted to do for a long time, have a woman ... a girl.

Staring into his mother's thin tight-lipped face, he

knew he would have to give her some explanation and so he said, "He was asking me what I thought of

Victoria."

"Oh! oh!" Her head bobbed. "He's bringing it into the open now, is he? Now, look,

Charlie-was She grabbed his arm and pulled him

backwards into the sitting-room and there, closing the

door, she whispered at him, "Don't be bullied

into doing anything you don't want to do. Anyway,

you're just a bit of a boy yet and she's two years

older than you. And that's only in years, for she's

old in other ways. She's a fly-by-night if

there was ever a one. Now I'm telling you this,

Charlie-was she gripped his hands- "he'll push you from this end and Hal Chapman will push her from

that end, and they'll join you up without a thought of what your lives together will be, simply because they both want the other's land. And when it's joined they'll spend their time praying for one or other of them to die, and you too, so that they can be lord of all they survey. Oh ...

men! Men!"

As Charlie watched her teeth grinding over each

other he released his hands from hers and took hold of

her arms, saying softly, "Don't worry; at

least don't worry about Victoria and me. Why,

she appears as old as you at times. And what's

more"-he smiled wanly-"she thinks me a

numskull; and about some things I suppose I am.

But what isn't recognized, Mother, is I have a

mind of my own. The few years of education

I've had has revealed that much to me and it has shown

me I have no taste for land or farming, what I

want to do is to travel, to see places, places

I've read about. And to meet people ..." His voice trailed away and his face took on a dreamy

softness. The other thing was forgotten for the moment, and when his mother put her hand up and touched his cheek he placed his hand over hers and pressed it to his face, only

to regret the gesture the next moment

when he was engulfed in her embrace.

As she sobbed pitifully, he patted her head,

whispering the while, "Ssh! ssh! he'll hear you,"

yet knowing that if his father did hear her crying he would not come to her for he had ignored the sound for years.

As he stood trying to comfort her he thought that it was strange he should experience such embarrassment by the

outward demonstration of affection from his parents. Perhaps it was because it was so rarely shown, or perhaps he sensed it wasn't the result of love on their part, merely a

need that had to be filled.

y I 1HE

I aloi

JL the

Bentons' cottage was the third along the row.

The two end ones to the left, as you

approached them from the burn, were empty. The two at

the other end were occupied by the cowman Arnold

Dawson and his family, and by the shepherd Fred

Ryton and his wife. All the cottages were the

same in construction, two rooms and a scullery

downstairs and a room under the eaves in which it was

possible to stand upright only immediately under the ridge.

Peter, aged ten, Mick, eleven, and Arthur

slept in comparative comfort in this room because each had a straw pallet to himself. Flo, aged nine,

Maggie, twelve, and Polly had the questionable comfort of sleeping together in the three-quarter size iron bed in the front room, while Jim Benton and big

Polly occupied the bed set up in the corner of the

kitchen.

This bed was wedged between the wall and the end of the fireplace and if Jim Benton was lying on his

side he could reach out and move

the pan on the hob to stop it from boiling over, or

to bring it to the boil, whichever was necessary. This often happened when they were all out in the fields and big

Polly had prepared a scrag end of mutton hash

or a rabbit stew for their return. But today young

Polly was seeing to the meal and talking as she did so.

"Things aren't fair, Da, they aren't

right." With an impatient twist of her hand which

indicated her inner feelings, she pulled the skin off

the rabbit's body, tugged it from its legs, then,

picking up a small chopper, expertly split the

carcass in two before looking towards the bed and adding,

"Why has he to do it on the cinder path? Why not in the barn or in the yard?"

Her father gave her no answer, what he did was

to raise himself slightly, cough, spit into a piece

of paper, then without his eyes following his hand, drop the paper into a chamber under the bed before lying back on the straw pillows. Why? she asked; why did he do

it? His Polly was so young in some ways while being as

old as the hills in others, but if she lived long enough she'd find out the reason why Edward MacFell

did the things he did. The reason was simple, he

loved cruelty, he

was in love with cruelty; he'd never loved anything

or anyone in his life. Oh aye, he thought he

loved his son, but that was simply pride because he

wanted to be able to show him off to the country folk.

That's why he was stuffm' him with education. Edward

MacFell loved no one but himself and found no

satisfaction in anything but suffering, making others

suffer. What had he said? No, that wasn't

quite true. There was one avenue that was providing him with satisfaction, for if it wasn't, why did he

keep it up? The thought brought him on to his side

and, looking towards Polly, he said, "Where is

she?"

"Taken some washin' down to the burn." Polly

BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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