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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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bidden to meet in the cottage she would have gone

gladly.

MacFell had been over to see John

Hodgson about a young bull he had for sale.

Hodgsons had been tenant farmers of The Manor

for generations, yet none had prospered. It was still a poor farm, due mostly to the layout of the land which was fit only for sheep grazing and a few cattle; even

so MacFell scorned him for it.

He knew that John Hodgson needed to sell the

bull and so he quibbled about the price, and but for the fact that he wanted to be back

on his farm before five o'clock, he would have gone on

quibbling until he eventually wore Hodgson

down. Instead, he told the man that he would leave it

for another day and let him think over his offer.

MacFell had no doubt but that Hodgson's

curses helped him on his way back over the

fields. However, this troubled him not at all, what

concerned him at the moment was that his son's needs must be met; then once that was out of the way the boy would apply himself solely to his work, the work of becoming a

scholar, an educated man who would be able to converse

with the best3 be better than the best, the best anyway that lived within the folds of these hills. What were they after all, them in the big houses and their manors, but idle good-for-nothings who had never earned a penny of the money that they were spending, nor yet contributed a

stick of furniture to their mighty rooms? Oh, his

son would show them. He might not after all decide that he should take over the farm, he could become a

barrister, a judge, or even enter Parliament; with

education such as he was receiving in the grand school in Newcastle he could go on to a university, and from there he could pick and choose caret be

TCP 2

whatever he desired, and marry whom he liked, even

into the class. Yes, definitely into the class, the

top class, from where he could even look down his

nose at Chapman's horsy daughter. . . . But

what about the land? Well, after all it meant

more to Chapman than it did to him. Chapman, for all

his style, had no freehold land.

He passed the narrow way that led down to the

village of Kirkwhelpington, then a little further

on he left the road and mounted the grassy bank

and, bringing his horse to a stop for a moment, he glanced at his watch. He had left it late, he must

hurry.

When he drove his heels into the horse's side

it set off at a gallop and he kept it at its

pace for the next three miles until the sweat was

running out of the beast. Then when he came to the top of the rise from where, over a rough copse, he could see his

farm and its outbuildings lying as if in the palm of a

hand, he let the animal drop into a canter before

taking the path that ran down through the copse and to the burn.

His intention was not to cross the burn but to remain in the shadow of the trees and watch the Benton chit going to her breaking, if all her mother said was true, and,

in his imagination, relish his son's pleasure.

Charlie did not stay long at Brooklands

Farm. Mrs Chapman and her husband welcomed him

most warmly and said how disappointed Victoria and

Nellie would be to have missed him, but Josh

Pringle had ridden over from Bellingham way that

morning and they had gone back to his place to see a

new foal. Mrs Chapman asked after his dear mother,

his father, and his sister Betty; then when she received the invitation she said they'd all be delighted to come over on Saturday evening, wouldn't they, Hal?

Hal Chapman endorsed his wife's sentiments;

then, his hand on Charlie's shoulder, he once again

took him on a tour of his farm, and it was as if he

were showing him everything for the first time as he pointed out the value of this horse and that cow, and the fine breed of pigs, and the sheep dotting the hillsides far away.

And so it was with relief that Charlie said his

good-byes and made his way hurriedly back home

for there were two things he had made up his mind to do.

First, he was going to tell his father that he had no

bodily needs that couldn't wait to be satisfied.

When just before setting out for Brooklands his father had told him whom he had chosen to initiate him

into manhood, he was so amazed as to be unable

to voice any protest. The indecency of it shocked

him. That his father could use big Polly and calmly

arrange for him to do the same with young Polly was

utterly abhorrent to him. In some way, it even

sullied the feelings he bore Polly, it

ripped from them the secret sweetness of his first love and left it smirched, brought down to the level of "the other thing" enacted in the hay.

The second thing he must do was to find Polly and

ease her mind. How he would go about this he didn't

know.

The farm seemed devoid of life; there was no one

about the yard except young Peter Benton who, as

Charlie unsaddled the horse in the stable, took the

saddle from him and with surprising strength and agility for one so young threw it over the saddle stand, then said,

"I can see to him, Mister Charlie," in reply to which Charlie, smiling at him, said, "You'll have to stand on something then, Peter."

"Aye well, I've done it afore an' I like

rubbing him down."

"Where's everybody?"

"Oh, about." The answer and attitude was that of a man, and for a moment Charlie forgot the weight on his

mind and laughed down on the youngster. He was a funny

little fellow was young Peter, he'd be a card when he

grew up.

Then as if belying this impression, the boy turned

a serious face up to Charlie and said, "What's

wrong, Mister Charlie? Is our Arthur in

for it? What's he done?"

"Arthur? Done? Nothing that I know of. What

makes you ask?"

"He's been goin' around in a tear all day,

wouldn't open his mouth. That's not like our Arthur, he's always goin' for me. He was in a while back for a

rope and 1 said what did he want it for, was he

thinking of hangin' hissel, an' he clipped rne

lug, knocked me flyin' he did. Is he in for

it, Mister Charlie? What's he done?"

Charlie stared down at the boy before he repeated,

"Nothing that I know of, Peter. Where is he now?"

"He went the copse way." He thumbed over his

shoulder.

"Don't worry"-Charlie grinned now-

"Arthur gets that way, he has fits and starts, you should know that by now."

"Aye. Aye, Mister Charlie, but. . . but

something up, "cos me ma didn't come in to her

dinner an" our Polly was sick in the sink. Is

the boss gona do somethin' to us, Mister Charlie?"

Polly sick in the sink. . . . "The boss. .

. . No, no, don't be silly. Whatever it is,

it's got nothing to do with your work, you're all

splendid workers." He absentmindedly

ruffled the boy's hair; then looking at the horse,

he said quietly, "You'll give her a good rub,

won't you?"

"Aye, Mister Charlie, aye, I'll see

to her well," and taking the bridle, the boy tugged the horse forward into its stall, and Charlie went out into the yard and stood looking about him for a moment.

Polly had been sick in the sink. She had

heard what she had to do and was terrified at the

prospect. And Arthur knew and he was mad about it,

and of course he would be, because in his rough way he was fond of his sister, deeply fond. And the mother, she was keeping out of the way, likely unable to face her

husband, a poor sick man.

He turned quickly about. He must find

Arthur and tell him, and he could tell Polly and

put her mind at rest. He went past the cut that

led to the cinder path, through the big barn and out of a side door, then across the field to the rise and the copse.

As he entered the piece of woodland he asked

himself what Arthur would be wanting with a rope in here for all the dead trees had been taken down last

Christmas and hauled up to the sawing bench; he himself had helped and enjoyed doing so.

It was at this point of his thinking that he saw

Arthur. He was crouched down behind a stunted holly

growing near the foot of an oak tree. Almost

immediately, he heard the approach of a horse from the far end of the copse. It was coming at some speed and although he couldn't see the rider he knew it would be his father.

He remembered afterwards how he had stood

rigidly still and wondered what had kept him so, why

he hadn't gone straight on down the slope towards

Arthur. But no, he had remained stock still until

the horse and rider came into view around the curve

of the path. The horse was cantering, sending the dried leaves like spray from its hooves. Then he saw his

father rise from its back into the air

as if he was beginning to fly, except that he was doing so in reverse. His head back, his arms widespread

like wings and his legs like a divided tail, he seemed

to hover in the air for a moment, then his limbs converging together he fell to the ground, at the same time as the horse's forefeet struck the path and the frightened

animal's neighing died away. It was like a scene

enacted in the blink of an eyelid.

Dear God! Dear God! Charlie was conscious

that his mouth was wide open and that his face muscles were stretched to their fullest extent, but for the life of him he couldn't move from the spot, until he

saw Arthur spring up from his hiding place and clutch

at the bole of the oak, tearing at something there. It was then he moved. Like a goat leaping down a mountain,

he sprang down the hillside and reached the

prostrate, huddled form lying amid the leaves just as

Arthur stopped in his frantic running, the rope

loose in his hand, and stared down at his master.

The two boys now lifted their eyes from the man

on the ground and gazed at each other. Then Charlie,

dropping onto his knees, went to turn his father from his side on to his back, but no sooner had his hands

touched him

than they left him again, for as he went to move the

body the head lolled drunkenly on to the shoulder.

Again the boys were gazing at each other, Charlie

looking upwards, Arthur looking down; and it was

Arthur who, on a deep gulp, spluttered,

"God Almighty no! Maim him, break his leg,

his arm, aye, that's all I meant, to stop him. You

don't know what he was up to. But no, no!

Almighty God! no, not kill him. No!

Charlie. No." He was backing away now, the

rope dangling from his hand, his words incoherent. "Just to stop him go in' to the cottage. Our Polly,

she's too young For it, for him anyway."

Of a sudden he stopped his jabbering and, his head

dropping forward, he looked at the rope in his right

hand. Then as if already experiencing the consequences of his act his left hand came up sharply and gripped his

throat. It was this action that brought Charlie out of the dazed, dream-like feeling that was enveloping him. His father was dead, His father was dead. And Arthur would be hanged for it.

The first fact stirred no emotion whatever in him

at the moment, but the second alerted him. He stood

up, then looked down at the

twisted form for a moment longer before turning back

to Arthur, whose face was now drained of every vestige of colour and whose whole body was shaking, and so, taking the rope from his* hand he ran with it to the other tree,

unloosened the end from it, then quickly looping the rope over his hand and his elbow, as he had seen Fanny

Dimple do with the clothes line over the years, he

thrust it inside his coat. Grabbing the dazed boy

now by the arm, he turned him about and ran him through the copse down towards the burn, then along it until

they came to the cottages on the rise.

Panting, they both stopped and their eyes lifted

upwards towards the end of the row where big Polly and

young Polly were standing facing each other

evidently arguing. But as Charlie, still hanging on

to Arthur, led him up the slope the mother and daughter turned towards them, and big Polly, moving a few

steps away from her daughter, cried, "What's now?

What's up?"

When the two boys reached the pathway, big

Polly's hands went out towards her son and, taking

him by the shoulder, she looked into his face and her

voice was low in her

throat as she asked, "What is it? What's

happened to you?"

Arthur didn't speak but his head drooped onto

his chest, and it was Charlie who said, "Let's . . .

let's go in here." He pointed to the empty house,

and one after the other they went into the dank room. It was noticeable that young Polly hadn't opened her mouth,

but all the while her eyes were fixed tight on her

brother.

"There . . . there's been an accident."

Charlie's mouth was so dry the words came out gritty

as if they'd been dragged over sand.

"An accident? Who?"

Charlie looked at the woman who had caused his

mother so much heartache all these years yet who had

been as much a victim of his father as his wife

had been. Everybody knew why big Polly had

to serve the boss; as he had heard Arnold

Dawson once laughingly say, "She paid the

rent."

"My father, he fell from his horse."

BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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