Authors: Yelena Kopylova
"I'll be there."
As he crossed the yard towards the barn Ginger
Slater came out from the horse-room. The boy
stopped and looked at him. His expression was no
longer a frightened one, his hangdog air had gone; in
fact there was a cockiness about him. But Charlie did
not notice the change in the boy, and he said to him,
"Find Arthur and come to the barn, I ... I want
to have a word with you."
Ginger didn't say, "Yes, master", or
"Yes, Mister Charlie", but he turned away and went through the passage that led to the cinder path. . , .
It was a quarter of an hour later when the two men
and the two boys assembled in the
barn. They stood in a rough half-circle and
looked at their mistress's son, for in each of their
minds it was the mistress who was the boss now. And
Charlie, vitally aware of this, asked himself how he was to begin? The idea born of the unusual outburst of
anger his mother had evoked had seemed good, easy.
He would talk to the hands, to tell them that he was now master and ask for their help. But here they were standing staring at him, two men older than his father had been, and
Arthur and Ginger only a year younger than himself yet
years older in experience He'd have to say something,
start somewhere. But how?
"You wanted to have a word with us, Mister Charlie?"
Fred Ryton's voice was kindly.
"Yes. Yes, Fred." Thankfully he turned
to the shepherd and, his tongue loosened now, he went
on hastily, almost gabbling, "I . . I just want
to say that I'm not returning to school, I ... I
intend to work the farm myself, that is"-his eyes swept the four of them now-"with your help." He gave a shaky laugh. "I know I'll need help for ... as
I said to you, Fred, during the last holiday, at
calfmg, you remember? I said I didn't think
was cut out for a farmer. And you agreed with me then. But now-was He straightened his slumped shoulders, rubbed
his hand tightly over his chin on which the bristles were few and far between, then ended, "Well, I mean to have a shot at it."
There was what seemed to Charlie an endless silence
before the cowman spoke.
"You'll find it different from booklearning, lad."
Charlie brought his eyes to those of Arnold
Dawson and his reply was surprisingly curt now.
"I'm aware of that, Arnold, but my education, what little I've had, won't, I hope, be a
drawback to me managing my own affairs."
They all stared at him blankly now. This
wasn't the gangling young lad they all knew, the
lad who couldn't bear to see a cow heaving in labour
and didn't appreciate that she would be well
recompensed with the first lick of her calf; the lad who had been known to release a rabbit from a trap when it
was caught only by the foot; the lad who stood
mooning on the hills looking into the distance like some loony, or walked out before dawn to see the sun
rise, and came back sodden wet with dew, which landed
him in bed for a
week. At different times over the years they had had
cause to think he was a bit funny in the head the
things he did, but the young fellow talking to them now didn't sound like someone funny in the head. It could have been his father speaking, that is if ever his father had spoken civilly to a human being,
Arnold and Fred almost spoke together; then Fred,
giving way to the older man, waited while Arnold
Dawson said his piece. It was short and to the point.
"Speaking for meself," he said; "I'll work as I have always done, fair's fair, I'll earn me
wage; apart from that if I can help you you've only
got to ask, lad."
"The same goes for me," Fred Ryton
was nodding at him now. "But all I can say is you
can't learn farmin' from books."
He should have been satisfied with their response but
he felt they still saw him as the boy, the master's
son who was destined to be a country gentleman. He
now turned his eyes towards Arthur, and Arthur
gulped in his throat, jerked his head to the side and
what he said was, "You know me."
Next, he looked at Ginger Slater and the
boy's answer surprised them all, for what he said
was, "Well, me, I never had much choice, had
His answer was understandable yet puzzling, because Ginger had never been known to stand up to anybody in all the years he had been on the farm.
The other three were still looking at him when Charlie
said, "Well, that's settled then. We'll go on from here ... a day at a time."
"Aye, a day at a time, you can't take it much
slower." This came from Arnold Dawson as he
made for the barn doorway, and the rest followed, leaving him standing alone, and feeling alone, more alone than he had ever been in his life. They weren't for him, not
really; they didn't want him as boss.
It was odd-he shook his head and gave a
small rueful smile-they would sooner have continued
to work under his father, who had paid them barely a living wage, and who, had they asked him for a penny rise,
would have thrown them out.
He felt tired, weary, sort of sick in the
pit of his stomach. He went to lower himself down on
to a bale of hay. His back bent, his buttocks
almost touching the hay, he stopped and straightening himself abruptly, muttered aloud, "I'll have to show them, won't I? I'll just have to show them that I'm me
father's son, that they're not going to get away with
anything, and that they've got to recognize me as
master." Not one of them had given him the title.
Well then, he'd have to earn it, wouldn't he? He'd
have to be firm, harden himself; if only outwardly,
to make himself a replica of his father. The thought instead of stiffening his fibre, brought his shoulders hunched and his head hanging forward as he walked slowly from the barn.
. . .
Yet it was less than an hour later when he
knew to his great relief that there would be no need
to alter himself for the men's attitude towards him
changed completely. Both, within a short time of each
other, addressed him as sir, and there was in their manner the acceptance of him as their master. It was
Fred Ryton who came to him first, "Can 1 have a
word with you, sir? It's about the sale over at
Bellingham come next week. It would be educational
like, in a different sort of way"- he gave a hie
of a laugh-"if you come along of me, showed yoursel' like an' got to know the ropes."
Charlie smiled at the man as he answered,
"Thank you, Fred; I'd be glad to," And when
Fred put his forefinger to his eyebrow just showed beneath the peak of his cap it
was, Charlie recognized, a definite sign of
Arnold Dawson approached him next, saying,
"About Hodgson's bull, sir. I don't know
if your father clinched the deal or not, but if it's to your likin' I'd go over along of you when you're ready
an' look at the beast. Hodgson's a tight man
"cos he needs the money so he'll take you for every penny he can get out of you."
"Good. . . . Good enough, Arnold." He
blinked, gulped in his throat, then added, "I'll
try to make it one day this week." His shoulders were back again, his head up; his manner was matching theirs.
"Right, sir. Right." Arnold, too, put his
finger to his eyebrow.
Then there was Arthur. They came face to face as
Arthur was leading a horse across the yard. His
approach was different: he stared at him for a moment
before muttering, "It'll take us all to die afore we get out of your debt."
So that was it. The change in their manner, it was because he had stopped his mother from evicting the Bentons. They had he surmised, considered he must have guts of some
sort to stand up to his mother, whose
silence all these years had been formidable in its own
He gave no response whatever to Arthur's
words, there was no need to: their lives were bound together by the secret they shared.
He walked on now towards the space between the
brick walls that formed the entrance to the farm proper thinking as he did so that there was only Ginger who
hadn't approached him. But then in a way Ginger
didn't matter, his opinion would carry no weight.
Yet he had always been sorry for the workhouse boy,
and had shown it. There was, he decided, one thing he
could do for him now, he could give him books to read.
As to his attitude towards himself, well, that was of
no account. What did matter was the attitude of the
men, and it seemed that they had accepted him
Many years later when he was to recall that morning
and his summing up of the response of his few workers
towards him and of how utterly wrong he had been in his evaluation of Ginger Slater, he was to tell himself he
couldn't have known that before noon of that particular day as recognized master of the farm he was to be given
evidence of things to come; but even then he wouldn't
full consequences of the power that lay in the hands of the undersized ginger-headed lad.
He stood now between the walls and looked over the
rough road to where the cows were grazing in the long meadow that sloped towards the burn. What should he do?
What had his father done at this time of the day?
He had walked his land . . . with a walkingstick in
Well, that's what he would do now, he'd walk his
land. Tomorrow he'd have the aid of a walking-stick too, but today he'd just walk. . . .
He set off, his arms swinging in unison with his
long thin legs and his chin was high as he turned his
head from one side to the other and looked over the
landscape; and as he walked he told himself that this was his farm, his land, and he was master of it.
Yet before he had covered half the perimeter his step
had slowed, his shoulders were slumped, his chin was in its usual position, and he was asking himself why it was he could love the hills and the countryside so much, yet
could not, even mildly, be stirred by the knowledge that he was walking on his own ground.
He stopped and looked away towards the
hills and he had the childish desire to take to his
heels and run, run to them, over them, then all the
way to Carter Bar and into Scotland. No, not
into Scotland. He swung round and faced the other
way. If he was going to run he'd run
to Newcastle and there board a boat that would take him to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and on to Germany and
Poland, on, on, on. . . .
But he couldn't run, he couldn't sail away,
for, to use the old phrase, he had burnt his
boats. Because of the Bentons he had lost the chance
to see the world and, what was more important at the
moment, the chance of further education. And further
education to him meant literature, reading,
Well-he began to walk again-he could still read
literature, couldn't he? There was nothing to stop him
reading. Only the atmosphere of the house;
the farm house wasn't conducive to reading, never had
been, there was no re/l corner in it.
The sun went in, the sky from being high above the
hills seemed now to be settling on them; the mist
came from nowhere suddenly. A pale grey curtain,
it seemed to rise and fall like a mighty kite. As
it enveloped him he
shivered and, turning quickly as if he were being pursued, he made his way back to the farm.
It was as he neared the gateway that he caught
sight of Polly standing talking to Ginger. He could
discern their mist-wreathed faces turned towards him,
but before he reached them Ginger Slater had gone through the opening into the yard.
As he came abreast of Polly, he thought that the
paleness of her face was caused by the drifting mist,
until he saw the look in her eyes. It was the
same look that had been there when she had stood
speechless in the empty house a little over a week
"Are you all right?"
Polly looked back into his face and, her
voice thick as if the very mist were clogging her
throat, she said, "No; no, I'm not, Charlie.
Not at this minute I'm not. Do ... do you
know what he's just said?"
"Aye, Ginger. He ... he came on me as
I passed, an" he said I've . . . I've
got to tell our Arthur to go easy on him. He
knows ... he knows, Charlie."
"What Arthur did with the rope."
"No! No! Oh, no!"
"Aye. Aye, he saw it all; you help*in
caret . . everything. He said he's not out to cause
trouble but our Arthur's got to stop bully*in him."
They were standing within a foot of each other; he was
looking down at her and she up at him; their breaths
were mingling with the mist; then simultaneously, as if both seeking protection, they stepped to the side and
close to the wall, and there was no vestige of the young master about him now, for his tone was rather that of a frightened lad as he said, "Do you think he'll say anything?"
"I don't know." Her voice was a thin whisper.
"He says he won't. And anyway I can't see
what good it'd do him if he did. But you never know with workhouse lads, you don't know where they come from; 1