Authors: Yelena Kopylova
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?"
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
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
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
"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, 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
"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?"
"He never takes anyone in there to talk about
nothing. Look, boy, tell me what he wanted you
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
"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 ...
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
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
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
"Taken some washin' down to the burn." Polly