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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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creaking of a floor board told them that Fanny had

entered the room. But they did not look

towards her where she stood at the bottom of the bed

staring at her mistress.

Mary, her body perfectly still now, looked from

one face to the other, her expression like that of someone awakening from a deep dream. Slowly she hitched

herself upwards in the bed, then leaning her head back

against the rail, she looked at her daughter and said,

"It would be you who would do that, wouldn't it, Betty?

Don't worry"-she made a small motion with her

hand-"I'm not going rnad. Oh no, I've no

intention of going mad." She now raised her body

upwards andwitha quick movement of her legs, which made her daughter spring aside, she brought herself upright

on to the side of the bed. And

now looking at her son, she said, "You heard what

he said, Charlie, I'm to have one third. I've a

right to one third. Do you know what that means to me, a right to something, something of my own, after all this time?

No"- she shook her head-"not even you, you don't understand, you couldn't understand what it means. Well, you'll see in the future because"-she now looked at her daughter again, then repeated the word, "because I'm going to spend, spend and spend what is mine. For the

first time in years I'm going to handle money. . . .

And Betty"-she bent her body forward

towards the girl-"I want you to get this into your head.

That licence you took a moment ago will be the one and

only time you will take the initiative from now on. As

long as I'm mistress of this house, and that's what

I am, mistress of this house, you will do what you're

told, and by me."

It was as if she had forgotten the presence of her

son and Fanny, and strangely it was as if she were

addressing a woman of her own age, not a

fourteen-year-old girl, but as Charlie looked at

them both he knew that his mother was not seeing a child of fourteen, she was seeing her late husband, for, just as he did himself, she realized that as long as Betty

remained in this house his father would not really be dead.

He also realized that a great change had come over his

mother, she was a different person; he couldn't imagine her as the same woman who was continually weeping, who

could go for days without uttering a word, who always walked behind her husband, never at his side; and he didn't

know whether he liked the change or not.

The following morning Charlie knew that he

didn't like the change in his mother and chat unless he himself changed, unless he asserted himself and showed himself now, young as he was, as master, his father in some

strange way had died in vain.

He looked at his mother where she stood dressed for the road in her new black clothes. They were

expensive looking clothes: the three-quarter length

coat was of alpaca, and the full skirt below it was of a fine woollen material with a deep mud fringe showing

round the bottom. On her head she had a large

black hat with a feather in it; it looked too gay

for a mourning hat, in fact, her whole attire

looked out of place for mourning. But then she wasn't

acting as if she were in mourning. There was a lightness about her,

an air of excitement, both in her attitude and in

her voice. But the tone of her voice now was threaded

with vindictiveness and the content of her words was amazing him. "I'm giving them notice," she was saying.

"The lot, out, they're going out, every single Benton; there's going to be a clean sweep here. Oh

yes"-she pulled on a black silk glove

stroking each finger down to the knuckle with such force that the stitching gave way in one of the sockets.

Charlie gazed at her in amazement, his eyes

narrowed as if to get a different view of her; and now

she cried at him, "Yes! you can look surprised,

but that's only the beginning, there's going to be changes here."

"You can't do this, Mother."

"I can't? But oh, I can."

"No! no! you mustn't."

"Boy!"-she moved a step towards him now-"do you know what I have suffered at that woman's hands all

these years?"

Charlie closed his eyes for a moment, then he

looked down towards his feet as he said, "It

wasn't her fault. You know it wasn't her

fault."

"Don't be ridiculous, boy; it takes two

to form an alliance like that. She could have said

no."

"And what would have happend then?" His head had jerked up, his words were rushing out, one after the other linked as in a chain. His voice, filling the room, startled her.

"He would have done the same as you're doing now, he would have turned them out; he would have had as much compassion for them as a mad bull. Nobody should know that better

than you. You suffered from him all your life, now

you're going to act in the same way as he did.

Well ... no, I won't have it. Big

Polly's not to blame. And Jim . . , why

Jim's on his last legs, you know that and you would talk of putting them out." He made a swift

movement with his hand as if giving someone a back

slap. "Well, you'll not do it, Mother, not as long as I'm here."

Her body was taut, her face set as if in a

mould but her voice had a control about it as she said,

"Do you know who you're talking to?" But his answer nonplussed her as it carne back quick and sharp:

"Yes, yes, Mother, I do know whom I'm talking

to. And , . , and while we're on the subject,

I would remind you-was He faltered now, swallowed

deeply in his throat but after a moment went on,

"Whether you like to face it or not. Father

left the farm to me. In all respects it... it

is

mine."

Her gaze was ice cold upon him and he was already

beginning to wilt under it, when she said, "And who, may I ask, is going to run your farm for you when you are

at school? Who is going to manage the affairs,

eh? Tell me that. Mr Big Fellow all of a

sudden."

Up till this present moment he hadn't given the

matter a moment's thought, he had taken it for

granted he would return to school and finish his

education, but in this instant he knew that his

schooldays were over, and he heard himself saying so.

"I'm going to manage it myself."

"You're going to what?"

"You heard what I said, Mother. I'm going

to manage the farm."

"Huh! Don't be an idiot, boy. You

manage the farm! You don't know the first thing about the farm. You might have been born and bred on the

place, but you've shown a distaste for it all your

days."

Perhaps it was the scorn in her voice that gave him

the courage to come back, in a voice as loud as her

own, "Perhaps the distaste wasn't so much for the farm as for the man who was running it; but. . . but now I mean to manage my farm, Mother. And I don't want

to keep repeating it, but it is my farm. and what I

don't know I'll learn. Arnold and Fred will

help me . . ."

"Arnold and Fred!" Her lip curled upwards.

"They were Dawson and Ryton in your father's time."

"Well, that being the case. Mother, and knowing that you never approved of anything Father did, I should have thought you would have welcomed the men being called by their

Christian names. Anyway, I've always known them

as Arnold and Fred; and as I said, I'm

sure they'll help me in that part of my education which has been lacking."

"Oh dear God!" She looked upwards.

"Even your phraseology is wrong. They'll

laugh at you, boy, they'll take advantage of

you. They'd take much more notice of Betty out there

than they would of you."

The gibe triggered off the distressing feeling of

embarrassment and this in turn brought the colour

flooding up to his face. She was right, they would

take more notice of Betty; he wasn't cut out

to be a farmer. He had always known that, yet here he

was assuming the position of master, and he'd make a

laughing-stock of himself. But what

else could he have done, for he knew that, even though his presence in the house might deter her from carrying out her threat, the minute he returned to school she would

throw the Bentons out.

Strange, but the Bentons were like the hand of fate

directing his life.

"Mother, the trap's ready." Betty appeared in the doorway. She, too, was dressed for the town.

As she slowly drew on her other glove, Mary

MacFell looked towards her daughter and said,

"I'm sure you will be pleased to know,

Betty, that your brother is going to run the farm.

He feels he must be master in word as well as in

deed."

"Run the ... run the farm? You!. . . You're

not going back to school then?"

Charlie looked down on his young sister who, like his

father, had always possessed the power to intimidate him, but now he stared straight into her small round dark

brown eyes as he said, "No, I'm not going back

to school, Betty; as Mother has said I am going

to run the farm, and I am going to start this very day . .

. now, and I'd like you to keep it in mind, Betty."

For once Betty had no ready retort. She

looked from her brother, whom she had never made any

secret of despising, to her mother, whom she disliked

intensely, and there was a note of utter disbelief in

her voice when she eventually said, "And you're going to let him?"

Mary MacFell walked across the room until

she was facing her daughter, and then she answered her.

"Apparently I've very little option, but what he

forgets is that I'm his legal guardian and I could

put spokes in his wheel, but however I'm not going

to!" Turning her head on her shoulder, she now

glared at her son and she spat her words at

him as she said, "But now I'll point out to you,

Charlie, that there are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it, and you'll find this out before you're finished.

Let your wretched Bentons stay and we'll see

... we'll see. Come, Betty." And on this she

went from the room and into the hall. She did not,

however, turn and go through the kitchen and so to the yard where the trap stood waiting, but she went out of the front

door and on to the gravel drive; and there without

turning her head she said to Betty, "Tell them

to bring it round"

A few minutes later Fanny, with Maggie

Benton standing behind her, watched from the end of the yard the trap jogging its way down the drive and on to the

bridle path, and turning and looking at Maggie,

she said, "God Almighty! would you believe it? I

always said I'd dance on his grave when he went but the old sayin's proving truer than ever, "tis

better to work for the devil you know than the devil you don't know! for who would have thought it, the quiet body that she's been all these years turning out to be as

snarly as a ferret. The idea! to turn you all out

on to the road. My God! she would have done it an"

all if it hadn't been for young Charlie. I couldn't

believe me ears, I just couldn't, but he

stood up to her. Aye, by God! he did that. I

never thought he had it in him. Soft, I thought he

was, with book-learning. The things you live to see."

Fanny shook her head dolefully, then added,

"Ah well, let's get in and get some work done.

But if I know owt we're going to see changes here,

lass. I only hope he has the gumption to stick

to his guns and stand up for himself as he did back

there, otherwise . . . well, God knows."

When they reached the kitchen door they both

self-consciously stood aside to allow Charlie

to enter the yard, and he turned to

Fanny and asked, "Where would Fred be this morning, Fanny?"

"Fred? Oh well, I saw him go early on with

Bett and Floss, so that means he's bringin' the

sheep down into the lower pen-there's some for market next week-so about now he should be up at Top Loam.

Do you want him?"

"Yes, yes; I'd like to have a word with him,

Fanny."

"Then off you go, Maggie," She turned to the

girl standing wide-eyed to the side of the kitchen door.

"Take to your legs and tell Fred the master wants

him. Just say that! the master wants him."

On this she turned and nodded deeply at Charlie,

and her words and her action infused strength into him and he smiled at her and said softly, "Thanks,

Fanny."

"You're welcome."

He was about to turn away when she put her hand out

and lightly touched his sleeve, saying, "If there's any way I can be of help you've only got

to ask; I'm old in me head as well as in me

body."

He said again, "Thanks, Fanny." He did not

ask himself how she knew about the present situation,

she had ears and was softfooted for all her years.

TCP 4

In the doorway of the byres he looked at Arnold

Dawson, who was brushing the muck through the trough that bordered the line of stalls, and he called to him,

saying, "Would you come to the barn in ten minutes, Arnold? I'd ... I'd like to have a word with you."

Arnold Dawson leant on the head of his brush

for a moment and stared at Charlie, and then he said,

"Yes, aye, yes, Mister Charlie, I'll be

there. In ten minutes you say?"

BOOK: THE CINDER PATH
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