Author Topic: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie  (Read 38350 times)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #15 on: April 25, 2010, 06:02:52 PM »
 
(continued from previous page)

Chapter 12

Halcyon Days
 


Davey blushed to the roots of his sandy-coloured hair when, one summer’s day as he lifted the youngsters down from Beauty’s back, Peggy, now seven years old, and who’d been deep in thought for several minutes, her little face screwed up in concentration, announced he must be the cleverest person in the world after Dada.

“There’s lots cleverer’n me, Peg!”  Davey grinned, half flattered, half embarrassed at being called “clever” for the very first time in his life. “Mr Maddocks and Mrs Maddocks is both to do with Government, runnin’ the country.”  He spoke the last line reverentially, almost in a whisper, as the staff at Follyfoot, overcome with awe, often did when speaking about their distinguished employers’ achievements.

Peggy was unimpressed. “You and Dada know everything about horses and plants and birds and anyway me and our Johnjo run the country ALL the time, we’re always having races.”

Jimmy had just arrived back from a driving job and overheard.

“Well said, Peg o’my heart!” 

He laughed as he ruffled his small daughter’s curly head and, tilting his chauffeur cap to wipe his perspiring forehead, for it was a very hot day and the band itched, he scooped Johnjo up into his arms while Beauty playfully nudged against him, seeking her usual head rub.

Jimmy’s laughter however belied his concerns. Beauty loved children, eagerly trotting up to greet Johnjo and Peggy whenever they called, and he and Davey of course spent as much time with her as they possibly could. But it just wasn’t enough. Horses were sociable creatures and pined when they were denied company. Arthur Maddocks however was adamant there would be no more horses at Follyfoot and very rarely came to the stables nowadays while Prudence, since the accident, was still inclined to blame Magic and never once came to see or asked how Beauty was faring. Jimmy had even tried the old trick of  placing a mirror in the stable but he felt Beauty was no fool and her own reflection was scant comfort.

He saw it in her eyes whenever he left her, and one night in particular, as he turned to bolt the stable door and the red glow of the lantern caught her sadly watching the shadows, a lump came to his throat and he thought what sad memories must haunt her dreams. Magic, the companion who never left her side, had gone forever. They could do everything for Beauty and yet they could do nothing.

There was no cure for a broken heart…

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #16 on: May 24, 2010, 09:03:53 PM »
***Chapter 13***

***The Death of Beauty***


Beauty passed away quietly one bitter winter’s night when a cruel frost lay hard on the ground and glitter-bright stars hung high in the sky, when breath curled like smoke and iciness gnawed into bones, when only the very foolish and the very desperate ventured outdoors.

In the quaint Yorkshire villages such as Whisteldown, families flirted with their own mortality, sitting by unguarded cottage fires, their only source of warmth, close as they dared, children asleep on parents’ knees with bedclothes wrapped around shivering little bodies, mother and fathers often still booted and gloved themselves. Singing Billy, a scrawny, straggly-haired man with a cut-glass accent, said to have had his mind unhinged after the horrors he saw in the Great War, who many years ago had “stopped by” in Yorkshire “on his travels” and who was a familiar figure in the villages, carrying a broken-handled basket with all he owned or dancing a crazy jig and singing tuneless half-songs to earn enough coppers to buy his beer, some weeks later in the yellow light of spring, and just when everyone believed him to have finally upped sticks and moved on, was found frozen to death in an abandoned barn, a newspaper of that date folded inside his shabby coat.

The stable however was warm and cosy. Few draughts ever managed to slip inside, Beauty’s heavy horse blanket was, as it was every cold night, across her back, and a family of field mice having made their new home there only that very same morning, nestled thankfully in the hay.

She had been listless for some days and, approached by Jimmy, Arthur Maddocks had agreed to call out a vet “the very best that money can buy” he added kindly, aware of how much the horse meant to him even if he himself had little interest in riding and horses these days and his wife, since the accident, positively detested them.

And so, exactly one week before, Sir David Holland, the most distinguished and expensive veterinary surgeon in the country and a leading expert on equine health care, had arrived at Follyfoot to examine Beauty, composed for her a personal and costly diet that Arthur readily and generously agreed to provide, prescribed appropriate medication and, on overhearing Hargreaves berating a weeping young scullery maid for being a “useless, clumsy idiot”, picked up the tray of bread rolls she’d dropped, put Keeper of Keys firmly in his place with a stern promise the incident of bullying would be reported to his employers, and thus departed, leaving the blushing young girl’s heart aflutter over his chivalry and handsomeness and to later dramatically declare tearfully to her best friend she was “’opelessly in love with a toff”.

But no amount of money and the medicine it bought, no amount of love and kindness or acts of chivalry by debonair gentlemen could mend Beauty’s broken heart and bring her back from death when it came.

(continued on next page)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #17 on: May 24, 2010, 09:20:42 PM »
Chapter 13/The Death of Beauty
(continued from previous page)


A motley collection of Follyfoot workers gathered in the January gloom to witness the burial of Beauty - at Prudence’s insistence, “somewhere, anywhere other than at Follyfoot Farm”, that "somewhere, anywhere" turning out to be in an adjacent field also owned by the Maddocks.

Despite her hatred of horses, blaming them unfairly for the accident that damaged her looks, Prudence had said nothing when so much money was spent on Beauty’s wellbeing but now that “the beast” was dead she saw no more reason to keep her counsel. And, besides the burial, there was another matter on which she stood firm:  there was to be nothing, she stipulated, to mark where Beauty lay. No plaque, no gravestone, no flowers. All trace of her must be wiped away.

Arthur loved his wife too much to refuse her anything but his generous nature wasn’t yet done. Having hired men with heavy machinery to remove the corpse and dig the grave, he gave those staff who wished to attend the short ceremony the time off to do so and, knowing how much Beauty would be missed, had even hoped to say a few words, but at the very last minute pressing Government business dictated otherwise.

Peggy and Johnjo, heart-scalded when the grass was again flattened over the earth, the men who had performed the task left, checking pocket-watches and worrying about whether or not they’d make it in time to the next job, and people hurried back to work, back to everyday life, as though nothing had happened, turned to their beloved Dada in bewilderment.

“Ma said the angels would take Beauty up to Heaven!  How will they find her?”

Peggy furiously stamped her foot, while Johnjo took out his frustration by wrapping his arms in a vice-like grip around his father’s knees and screaming he didn’t want Dada to go, for Jimmy, though devastated by Beauty’s death, was required to drive Mr Maddocks to the emergency meeting of Parliament.

(continued on next page)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #18 on: May 24, 2010, 09:31:38 PM »
Chapter 13/The Death of Beauty (continued from previous page)

Davey clapped a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, his own eyes shining with tears. Working alongside his friend, he had stopped seeing the horses as simply a job that put money in his pocket and become very fond of both Beauty and Magic.

“I’ll take the bairns back for yer, Jim. If Rosie’s still workin’ at the laundry I’ll care for ‘em till she can get off. That is, if yer wouldn’t mind, Mr Maddocks?  You could dock my wages and I’d work back the time I owed, double, if yer likes.” 

The teenager had shot up in the last couple of years, towering above many of the Follyfoot staff including Hargreaves, who no longer dared bully him. He was still prone to knocking things over and he would never be a scholar although, thanks to Jimmy patiently teaching him the three Rs, he knew enough to get by, but there was an air of confidence and responsibility about him nowadays and Arthur had had no hesitation in agreeing to Jimmy’s suggestion that Davey, already interested in plants and vegetation, learnt the trade of gardening. He had asked Caldwell the gardener, a quiet man whose family had worked for the Maddocks for generations, to keep an eye on him and his reports back to his employer had been glowing.

“That won’t be necessary,”  Arthur smiled. “Take as much time as needed. I know I can trust you not to take advantage.” 

"Unlike in the old days", he was tempted to add, but bit his tongue. Davy often amused him with his refreshingly honest “do it first, ask the Maddocks later” philosophy and he marvelled that from being a shiftless youth almost certainly destined for the same fate as his drunken, workshy father, he had become one of his most reliable employees.

He didn’t trouble himself to console Peggy and Johnjo as he, Jimmy and the boy sent by Hargreaves to run all the way from the manor house and breathlessly deliver the urgent telephone message turned back towards the path. Children, as far as Arthur was concerned, were brainless, uninteresting creatures who snivelled frequently, demanded constant attention and caused all manner of problems. He was glad he and Prudence were agreed they had no intention whatsoever of ever having any.
 
“Now listen, yous two.”  Davey stooped down to the little ones after Jimmy had given his son and daughter hasty farewell kisses and hugs. “We’re gonna fix it so’s the angels know exactly where to find Beauty. Got it?”  He winked, pinched their noses and produced a bag of sweets from his pocket. He had long since stopped believing in any God but he respected his workmate’s Christian views and a white lie wouldn’t hurt.

Peggy and Johnjo, calmer now, faces stained with dried-out tear streaks and cheeks bulging with toffees, nodded solemnly. Although courting quite seriously and planning to marry Beth in a few years, at heart Davey was, and always would be, a child. Unlike the sedate adults who returned via the long path that led to the very top of Whistledown Lane, the three took their own, much quicker route back to Follyfoot Farm, simply pushing their way through frosted long grass, hedges and brambles, jumping over the narrow ditch and scrambling over the fence, where Davey, after lifting the youngsters safely over the barbed wire, paused to untangle a long thread of cotton that had caught from his shirt.

The short-cut had led them directly to the Follyfoot stables, where a large, old tree with thickened truck had stood many a year, its spreading branches like welcoming hands, stripped bare now by winter, but every spring growing defiantly anew until by summer it would again be covered with thick, lush green leaves under which Davey, in his early days of employment, had often sat snoozing while Beauty and Magic peered out over the stable doors to whinny and shake their heads as if in disbelief at his idleness.

“Wait there a mo, kids,” Davey instructed the curious youngsters, and he disappeared into a stable, returning almost immediately with a small knife procured from his workbag.

“Now then, to work, slackers!”  He grinned, and two pairs of small mittened hands took turns at being held in his large fist to clutch the knife’s handle and be guided slowly and carefully across the tree’s elderly bark. At last Davey proclaimed the job done and that the angels would now have no trouble in locating Beauty.

Pleased with themselves, Davey, Peggy and Johnjo stood back to admire their handiwork as a cold wind picked up an errant smattering of January snow and whipped their scarves across their faces. Beauty’s name and an arrow pointing in the direction of the field was carved there forever.

Except Davey had never quite mastered the art of spelling and the trio remained blissfully unaware that the word read “Booty”, a mistake which, many years later, would cause some local children, heads full of dreams from watching a Saturday matinee at the popular Ashtree picture house, to dig around the sodden earth of Follyfoot, convinced that long ago bank robbers must have hidden thousands of pounds somewhere near the Haunted Tree of the Haunted Farm.

Few people knew it as Follyfoot Farm anymore.

Empty and neglected as it was, with rainwater gushing over broken slates and into the deserted manor house, grass overgrown and flowers choked by weeds, stables burnt out and derelict, farmhouse shutters where nails had rusted and fallen clattering through the wind whistling eerily down from the Yorkshire Moors. There had long been rumours that galloping hooves might be heard here by midnight. There was, some said, a strange sense of waiting...

Ah, but that’s another tale, a tale of a Lightning Tree, and one I shall tell in the next chapter…

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2010, 03:14:44 PM »
Chapter 14

The Lightning Tree (Part One) 

In Yorkshire, they still talk of the Thirties Thunderstorms, as they're known. The summers before the Second World War were hot and humid and the storms that broke the stifling August air were spectacular. Milk curdled, drains flooded and fires blazed in parched fields; swarms of flying ants invaded homes, thunder and lightning clashed in a moody sky like mighty titans, and everyone had a tale to tell.

Ann Jones and Vera Buckley never tired of telling theirs, how a furious fork of lightning struck on the exact spot in Loppington where they’d been gossiping minutes before, for a reporter arrived from the Ashtree Chronicle to interview them. Each could still pull out a crumbling newspaper years later, often in the most unlikely places: Vera produced one, carefully preserved in a plastic wallet, to the startled midwife shortly after giving birth to her eighth child; Ann, invited to give a reading at a funeral, scandalized the congregation by holding up the dated newspaper while talking of God striking down the wicked. Villagers, tired of hearing their story, hid to avoid them and it’s said that once even the vicar crouched behind a gravestone, clutching his knees to his chest and keeping his head down.

Frankie Wilcox accidentally stood on the button of his father’s box camera and took a breathtakingly beautiful photograph of a storm over Whistledown; Winnie Jones, who ran the sweetshop in Loppington, sold a ruined stock of melted chocolate by adding a little water and sherbet, calling the sickly concoction Luxury Chocodrink; a cup tie between Ashtree and Kettlefield was struck by lightning just as the only goal was scored and the row about whether or not Ashtree should have been declared winners raged for years afterwards.

At Follyfoot Farm, the merest hint of storm clouds over the River Ouse sent staff into a frenzy of activity, Keeper of Keys barking orders to underlings as though running a military operation. Kitchen staff put cling-film-covered cold meats and jellies, and wine bottles cooling in ice buckets, all laid out in readiness for dinner, back in fridges to be served up at the very last minute; a couple of youngsters were tasked with ensuring all windows were closed and unnecessary lights switched off; lanterns and candles were prepared in case of power cuts; some of the men were sent to check on the few domestic animals still kept on the Farm and to secure buildings from fire and flood.

Jimmy, who often worked long hours as a chauffeur, had just returned one evening from driving the Maddocks back from an engagement, and hearing there was a storm forecast, stayed on to help out at the Farm. That eventful day, he and Davey were busy fixing a newly-discovered hole in the henhouse made by an opportunist fox, while the fattest speckled hen, despite her terror of thunder, squawked loudly and scratched the ground, keen to make a break for it.

“Keep back, yer dozy bag o’ feathers!” Davey chided affectionately, holding up the chicken wire as Jimmy worked and trying to distract the clucking hen by kicking some food towards her. “Yer a lucky bloody b****r Sally ain’t around!” 

“Aye, that she is,” Jimmy agreed about the missing kitchen cat, large thunder-raindrops dripping down from the brim of his chauffeur's hat and, running down his face, concentrating hard on clipping together the damaged wire.

In his early days at Follyfoot it would have been him and Eddie Prendergast working together like this, but that was before Eddie’s rheumatism took hold. A twinge of nostalgia for his old friend made him sigh. Six months ago, after talking it over with Eddie and letters back and forth to his only relative, a married sister living in Michigan, the Maddocks had tweaked and pulled strings with the American Embassy, and, with a regular income of a monthly pension to look forward to, Eddie had sailed off to America. As promised, Jimmy had kept his counsel of some years previously when Arthur Maddocks warned him about the looming possibility of War but the newspapers and wireless were full of it nowadays and, from the snippets Arthur told him in confidence about Parliamentary matters and Eddie’s hastily arranged departure, he knew it was only a matter of time.

“Penny for ‘em, mate?” 

The storm had broken immediately overhead and Davey had to shout to make himself heard above the pounding rain and furious roar of thunder. He was wearing Eddie’s old sou’wester hat and coat, the sleeves too small for his long arms and the coat finishing above the knees of his lanky legs, which made Jimmy smile.

“Just thinking if Beth could see what a clown you look right now!”  Jimmy teased as he finished off mending the wire, not wanting to burden the younger man with talk of War when his wedding was only weeks away.

“No more’n you,” Davey retorted, grinning back as he surveyed Jimmy’s heavy raggedy old coat, hastily picked up off the peg behind the kitchen door to protect his chauffeur uniform and once too the property of erstwhile chauffeur Eddie, which was now covered in grass, mud and chicken mash.

A sudden exceptionally loud crash of thunder made them both jump. A streak of forked lightning ripped the sky apart and bounced down off the ground, illuminating the Farm in an unearthly yellow glow, striking with brutal ferocity. It was a mercy, the Follyfoot people said later, that the lightning targeted the unoccupied area by the stables and not a soul had been hurt.

But the tree took the brunt of it.

The summer tree that only that very morning had spread its glorious blossoms in homage to a blazing sun, the thick, sturdy old tree that had watched seasons come and go, the benevolent old tree that bore the word “Booty” etched deeply into its heart, that had tenderly sheltered Davey when he slept below and shaken its branches in greeting to Beauty and Magic, had been struck down in seconds...



Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #20 on: July 04, 2010, 11:57:29 AM »
                                                              Chapter 15

The Lightning Tree (Part Two)

Fortunately, the fire caused by the lightning strike was put out before it had had time to take firm hold and the damage confined to the area around the unused stable block.  The storm had long since ceased and a refreshing breeze crept into the air by the time Jimmy prepared to cycle home to Loppington.  Although it was past midnight and he could have “dossed down” in the servants’ quarters, as Davey and a couple of other men kept late by the extra work the storm caused had decided to do, he always liked to get home to his wife and children.  It had been a long, tiring day and he would be glad to see the back of it.  He turned to say goodnight to Hargreaves as he pulled open the heavy gates that guarded Follyfoot.

The moon chose that very moment to slither out from behind a cloud, capturing in its foggy light the smoke-streaked stables and silhouetting the tree struck by the wild fork of lightning.  

It seemed to signify all that had been lost in the Great War and all that would be lost in another.  Tears sprang suddenly to Jimmy’s eyes and he was glad of the half darkness that hid them.  Hargreaves would be an unsympathetic listener and tears, when all was said and done, could change nothing.  But it saddened him to see that once great tree so broken, so worn and defeated, with its limbs torn and head bowed in despair.  To think back to happier times when it would merrily scatter blossom down over Beauty and Magic as the two beautiful black horses, saddled up by him and Davey and trotting majestically, were being ridden out by the Maddocks in their finest riding gear. Those days would never come again and the days ahead promised to be austere indeed.  

Adolf Hitler was making waves in Germany and people here were joining the Army, Navy and Air Force in droves. Many of his mates had already signed up and it was only that the Maddocks were involved in Government affairs, relying on Jimmy to ferry them to and from political meetings which just might result in averting the impending war, that stopped him from “doing his bit” in defending his country.   The lightning tree strike somehow seemed an ominous sign and his heart was heavy as he cycled home, only the rolling sound of the bicycle wheels, the sigh of the wind and the swish of an occasional motor car breaking the silence of the mud-splattered roads.  

Rose, as was her habit no matter how late the hour, and Jimmy’s times were often erratic in the lead up to the War, was sitting up waiting for him.  Smiling, she put down her book, her pretty face pink in the glow of the gas lamp, jumping up to greet him with a kiss.  They had been childhood sweethearts and though like all couples they had their ups and downs their marriage was generally a happy one.  Drinking hot, steaming tea and eating thickly-buttered home-baked bread in the homely little cottage while the children slept, his worries and cares soon fled and his dreams carried him back in gentle arms to be with Beauty and Magic once more.  He woke to the sun streaming in through the bedroom window, to the clatter of dishes and smell of bacon, to Peggy and Johnjo’s argument over who was to tell Dada breakfast was ready and Rose’s voice calming them down.  He felt more hopeful, thankful that apart from the tree no other living thing had been hurt in the fire.

But the tree had not been the only victim that terrible night...

(continued on next page)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #21 on: July 04, 2010, 12:07:37 PM »
(continued from previous page)

Under the new sky bathed in golden sunlight, Davey was trundling a wheelbarrow full of gardening tools through the sodden grass when he thought he heard a small cry emanating from the stable block.  Puzzled, he quickened his pace.  The centuries old buildings had been empty since Beauty’s death a few years earlier and once the fire had been quelled no one had troubled to look inside, but, alerted by the noise, Davey checked each stall in turn and at last discovered its source. 

The acrid smell of last night’s smoke still hung in the air like an invisible shroud as, snuggled in the hay, six tiny black kittens nestled so close together they seemed as one.  Nearby lay their dead mother, her fur bedraggled from last night’s rain, her long whiskers fluttering momentarily in the breeze Davey brought inside. Poor Sally, the missing kitchen cat, had found strength enough to bring her babies safely into the world but not strength enough to fight for her own survival. 

Davey dropped to his knees, quickly untying the sweater wrapped around his waist, for he had been assigned the task of clearing the area by the pond where the thick clump of trees blocked the sunlight and made it chilly even on the warmest day.

“Sorry, Sal, I gotta tend the little’uns first.  But I’ll be back, old girl, I promise.” 

His voice cracked with emotion.  Sally had been little more than a kitten herself when, aged fourteen, he was first hired as stable boy and she had dodged cruel Hargreaves’ kicks as often as Davey had dodged his blows.  One memorable day, not long after Davey began working at Follyfoot, Keeper of Keys was in a particularly foul mood and they had both run out the door together to, as it turned out, the same refuge down by pond.  Sally sat on the bank and watched the fish and birds, occasionally pausing to stretch, yawn and wash herself while Davey leaned against a tree and watched the clouds, occasionally pausing to stretch, yawn and smoke a cigarette.  After that they confided in each other often - Davey would grumble to Sally about his workload and Sally would every morning run to greet Davey miaowing loudly.

Sally had been his best friend in the early days; indeed his only friend until Jimmy joined Follyfoot Farm, Davey’s notorious laziness hardly endearing him to other staff.  Taking care of her kittens was the least he could do for her.  He cupped each carefully in his hands and, with difficulty as none would stay still, tucked the six tiny mewing black balls of fluff inside the sweater.  Mrs Lattimer, his neighbour in Whistledown, owned three cats, one of whom had recently borne a litter, and Davey hoped that between them they could persuade Jess to nurse the orphaned kittens, but how to get them there and quickly?  As though in answer to his silent question, a car horn honked briefly in the Yard. 

Jimmy always liked to  ensure the car was in good working order before any driving jobs by driving round Follyfoot, and occasionally the roads beyond, beeping the horn in regular short bursts around the Farm to warn anyone who might stray into its path.  He  had opened the door to shoo a hen that was blithely ignoring the horn and jaywalking at a leisurely Sunday pace when Davey dived into the passenger seat. 

“Fast as yer can to Whistledown!”  he ordered.

Thinking it was a joke, his friend began to laugh but Davey silenced him by briefly opening the lumpy bundle wriggling in his arms.

“Sally’s dead.  We gotta get the poor b*****s to feed or they’re goners and Charlie’s the quickest way to get ‘em there!”
 
It was rarely, if ever, that Jimmy went along with Davey’s harebrained schemes but the need for urgency and their mutual love of animals clinched it.  His heart won out over his head. 

“Just taking Charlie out for a quick spin!”  Jimmy called, Davey having ducked out of sight and the noise of the car engine drowning out the kittens’ mews.  Keeper of Keys unquestioningly unlocked the gates, jumping back, startled when, instead of the usual sedate drive, Jimmy put his foot down.

The plan however went like clockwork.  Mrs Lattimer, who adored cats, was as keen as Jimmy and Davey to save the kittens while Jess's motherly instincts immediately took over and she fussed over the brood as easily as if they’d been her own.  As, unusually, Jimmy wasn’t required to drive the Maddocks anywhere that morning he found plenty of time on their return to scrub out the car so that all trace of cat hairs - and muddy footprints - were successfully removed. 

Davey had buried Sally in her favourite place, down by the pond, and Jimmy joined him there to help with the gardening, both half laughing, half crying as they reminisced over the irrepressible Sally’s escapades, and there were many, from the day she was found on the pantry shelf polishing off the chicken to the time she crept unseen beneath the table cloth during a VIP banquet being held at Follyfoot and dropped a dead mouse on Prudence’s foot.

It wasn’t until Jimmy was returning to the Manor House later that the possible dire consequences of his hasty actions began to hit him.  What was he thinking?  He and Davey might have acted on the best of intentions, but what if the Maddocks had been called to an urgent political meeting?  It could have been the very one that made all the difference between world war and world peace but lack of immediate transport had meant they hadn’t been able to attend.  And using the car for his own ends anyway, that could even result in instant dismissal and in poor Davey losing his job too.  He was damned lucky his employers hadn’t noticed Charlie’s absence, but Davey HAD talked and a handful of other workers now knew what had happened.  If Keeper of Keys, who hated the way the other staff looked up to Jimmy, got wind of one careless whisper he wouldn’t hesitate to feel it his “duty” to report it…

He was still mulling things over when young Theresa Holmshaw, who was determined to rise from the shackles of maid-of-all-work and rise to the dizzy heights of lady's maid, and was “h’ever-so-careful” practising manners and speech though her accent let her down badly, came hurrying out of the servants’ quarters and down the path to meet him, walking at a strange gait as though frightened her head might drop off any minute.

“Beggin' pardon, Mr Turner,” she said politely.  She had piled up her hair hoping to appear more sophisticated, although the fancy ribbons and decorative pins were rather impractical attire given that her work involved a great deal of running around, and she had had to fix the new style three times already.  “We was all asked to keep a sharp eye out for yer,” the snub-nosed little maid explained, concentrating on re-doing a pin working its way loose from her thick, dark tresses.  “Master 'n' mistress requests yer presence in the drawin' room immediately.  Please to follow me, sir.”

Jimmy stifled a chuckle.  Having worked at Follyfoot Farm for several years, he was already quite familiar, thank you, with the way to the drawing room as Theresa was well aware.  But he also knew, as did Theresa, that it would do her career prospects no harm to show her face every now and then and Jimmy allowed her to tap reverentially on the drawing room on his behalf.

“Mr Turner, sir, ma’am.”  She swept open the doors in response to the invitation to enter, tilting her chin so carefully to keep her hairdo in place that she put an amused Jimmy in mind of a ship figurehead.

But his heart sank as soon as he saw the sombre expressions on the Maddocks’ faces.

“Jimmy,” Arthur began.  “We have an extremely serious matter to discuss with you…”




Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #22 on: August 07, 2010, 06:23:24 PM »
  ***Chapter 16***

***August 1939*** 


Jimmy had of course been in the drawing room many times before.  With its large fireplace, luxurious carpet, grand piano and antique furniture, it was a place where the Maddocks liked to relax and perhaps take a light afternoon tea while discussing political matters or household affairs.  Not only did it catch the sun and give panoramic views of both the rolling hills of Whistledown and the distant Yorkshire Moors, but it housed too an elderly wireless and a brand new television set, the latter which filled the staff with almost reverential awe and gave them much cause to boast in the village shops.  As was the fashion in those pre-War days however, it overflowed with clutter and fuss and Jimmy didn’t envy Edith who, as soon as pretty little Theresa had coaxed the fire into new morning life and exited with soot-blackened nose and arms, marched in with dusters and polish.
 
In the hearth, two ornately-decorated Victorian fire screens jostled for space with the brass fireside set and two large bronze elephant sculptures.  Surrounding the mahogany pendulum wall clock and always making Jimmy shiver with horror, stuffed animal heads, relics from a bygone era, stared glassy-eyed.  Several paintings adorned the walls:  a portrait of Lord and Lady Maddocks (Arthur had inherited the title a few years earlier when eldest brother Geoffrey refused it); a stern-looking ancestor pondering over some thick tome; a snow-covered Yorkshire landscape with shepherd and sheepdog busy herding their flock; a winter woodland, solitary and eerie by moonlight; a busy Thames teeming with ships and colour; a group of wild, free horses gathered by a stream, a gift from said Geoffrey and which, Jimmy had noticed, since the tragic accident when Prudence was thrown from Magic and disfigured her nose, had been demoted to a half-hidden corner. 

The mantelshelf too was crammed with ornaments and photographs.  One in particular never failed to capture his interest.  It did now in the silence punctuated only by the clock’s loud ticking.  It was a large, silver-framed picture of the Maddocks family taken several years ago. 

On a long seated couch, mother and father sat at either side of three of their brood, all boys, who seemed to range in age from around ten to fourteen.  Their round, podgy faces might simply have been puppy fat but it could equally have been an unfortunately inherited trait of their portly father, who looked to be a man who had great appreciation of good food, good wine and his own importance.  The fourth boy, a tall, skinny youth in his teens, who more closely resembled his slender, pretty mother, stood at the back, both hands placed on the couch behind each parent.  Perhaps it had been the photographer’s original intention to show the heir to the vast Maddocks fortune embracing his wealth, but if so in this he had been thwarted.  “Dotty Geoff”, as Jimmy had often heard Arthur and Prudence disparagingly refer to him, smiled for the camera but his gaze strayed towards the window, where an inquisitive squirrel sat watching from a tree branch.  There was something about that amused gaze and the open window that intrigued Jimmy.  He was not given to “flights of fancy”, as his wife Rose would say, yet he felt, like himself, there was a love of the great outdoors and animals in this boy.  This man.

For Geoffrey Maddocks, unmistakeably the boy in the picture sat, in army uniform, in the very same room, drinking a glass of brandy.

“Jimmy, we have an extremely serious matter to discuss with you…”

Arthur had paused and Jimmy clutched his doffed cap, bewildered by the presence of the newcomer. 

“This is my brother Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks.  Geoffrey, this is Jimmy Turner of whom we spoke.”

“Indeed.  Pleased to meet you,” the Army man replied in the same cut-glass accent, and to Jimmy’s surprise stood in order to warmly shake him by the hand. 

“Likewise,” he stammered in return, wondering if the world had turned on its head and toffs were to respect the lower classes now. 

“Please take a seat.  May I offer you brandy or whiskey?  Or would you prefer to take it in tea?”  Arthur had already picked up the decanter from the tray set out on a nearby coffee table.

“Or we could send for coffee…?”  Prudence added, her finger hovering over the old-fashioned bell-pull that would alert the duty kitchen maid, further confounding Jimmy, who pinched himself to be sure this wasn’t all some peculiar dream.

“Just tea would be fine, thank you, ma’am.”  Jimmy was too stunned to feel like drinking anything at all but thought he ought to accept for politeness’s sake. He sat rigidly on the very edge of the easy chair Arthur had indicated, thinking whoever was duty maid would swoon if she could see him now.  It was the Thirties and folk said class barriers were being torn down and rightly so in these more modern times, but Jimmy was of the old school and ill-at-ease being treated as an equal.

“I won’t beat about the bush,” Arthur continued as he poured from the large silver teapot into a delicate china cup that Jimmy, more used to the thick, chipped kitchen mugs, was very anxious about breaking.  “Jimmy, you must know by now we regard you more as a friend than an employee.  You may recollect our conversation that bleak winter’s day a few years ago when I told you we may have to prepare for War?  I must take you into my confidence again.”  He wiped a hand across his face and sighed heavily.  “We fully expect Mr Chamberlain to make such an announcement in weeks, perhaps even days.  Follyfoot Farm is to be closed.  We intend to relocate as many staff as we can to new places and positions and have already begun the process.  And we need someone we can trust, who would, I might add, be very admirably recompensed, to live and work with us in London… ”



Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #23 on: August 10, 2010, 10:20:19 PM »
Just a very brief chapter as I’m going on holiday Sat so no writing time for a while :)

 
***Chapter 17***

***Decisions***
 

Although he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol, Jimmy’s head was spinning by the time he left for the kitchen to inform a certain Pte Jones, who had apparently been entrusted to Davey’s care, that his superior Colonel Maddocks was now ready to leave. 

He had gone into the drawing room expecting to be hauled over the coals for taking the car without permission.  He had left having learnt that potential enemy codes were being broken and allied codes created in a top secret underground London HQ.  That there too strategic plans were being drawn up by top boffins in the event of war.  The highly intelligent if slightly eccentric Colonel Maddocks and the Government were heavily involved and now Arthur and Prudence hoped Jimmy, under guise as chauffeur to the wealthy, driving them to theatre shows and dinner parties, would help in the war effort by delivering papers and documents.  False statements would be fed to the press about Prudence and Arthur quitting politics “disillusioned” and “deciding to concentrate instead” on an idle life of leisure which their riches could easily afford.  Jimmy would be given his own cottage in the grounds of their exclusive home and his children attend a nearby private day school, its fees and uniforms paid for by his employers.  Rose would be free to do as she pleased.  Lord and Lady Maddocks would have no hesitation in footing the bill if she tired of being a homemaker and decided to pursue some interest.  She might like to study the history of art or take flower arranging lessons, Prudence gushed.  Privately, Jimmy thought Rose would laugh till she cried at such “silly notions”. 

He stopped by the little circular window of the winding corridor and peered out through its ancient thick panes at the empty stable block, blackened  and charred by lightning.  His mind mocked and teased him with memories of happier times, when the tree had been in full summer bloom and Beauty and Magic majestic and proud.  Follyfoot Farm was to be closed!  He had always dreamed a foolish dream that one day Arthur and Prudence might own horses again.  Always thought he would spend the rest of his days living happily in Whistledown and working at the little family-like community of Follyfoot.  Now everyone was to be divided and scattered, perhaps forever.  The war would see to that.  He wiped away a stray tear.  No use in dwelling on the past.  Time moved on.  Nothing stayed still, not the rush of the ocean nor the wayward wind that whistled eerily down from the wild Yorkshire Moors.  The future beckoned now.

It was an incredibly generous job offer and the Maddocks were relying on him so much to accept it.  His family would want for nothing and he would too be helping with the war effort. 

But they were simple country folk, his heart argued.  Rose had gone with him once to Leeds but she couldn’t wait to hurry home.  She had hated the swarming crowds, the noise of the traffic, the factory chimneys belching out fumes.  Like himself, his wife loved pretty little Whistledown and its quaint, old-fashioned way of life.  And what of Peggy and Johnjo?  They were bright, happy children who thrived on the unsullied air and adored being with animals, always full of what they’d learnt at the village school or caring for some wounded bird or what vegetables they could grow.  How could he tear them away from all they’d ever known? 

It seemed a thousand years since the tree had been struck by lightning. It was as if that very moment signalled the end of Follyfoot and all it had ever been... 



Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #24 on: August 22, 2010, 10:55:13 PM »
I’m off work tomorrow  :) so thought I’d stay up late  ::) and finish the chapter I began before I went on holiday.  Might be a while before next update as I need to get back to another writing project.  There are a few problems trying to change format to italics so I’ve used capitals instead.  And just IMAGINE the asterisks separating the first and second scenes are centred  ;) ;D as every time I try to centre them the mouse jumps back to the beginning of the chapter!  ::) :)

***Chapter 18***

***A Newcomer***

Arthur and Prudence had already confided in Davey their plans to close Follyfoot Farm although they did not disclose to him the real reason they were returning to London.  The rest of the staff would be gathered together that very evening and told the sad news.  Davey alone would be left in Whistledown to deal with all practical matters relating to the Follyfoot estate.  He would tend the grounds, divert mail, telephone the Maddocks in the case of any emergency, arrange immediately for any repairs he couldn’t handle himself.

“It is a great responsibility but you are a very responsible young man and I have no doubt will make Beth Harris an excellent husband,” Arthur said, after he’d explained Davey’s new role.

“We would like you to accept this small wedding gift with our compliments,” Prudence added as, to Davey’s overwhelming delight, he was presented with a beautiful brass mantel clock.  Nobody mentioned it would look somewhat out of place in the rundown little cottage where he and his new bride were to set up home although the colonel’s batman, a ruddy-faced, no-nonsense sort of fellow, might have been observed to roll his eyes to the ceiling.  And, being unaware of Davey’s renowned clumsiness especially when excited, he looked downright baffled when Arthur, being VERY MUCH aware of it, suggested HE carry the clock (that Prudence, erring on the side of caution, had carefully repackaged in its tissue-layered box) while Davey took him to the kitchen for refreshments.

Jimmy of course had returned to the manor house much later, having noticed some blocked guttering on the farmhouse roof, fetched ladder and overalls and busied himself clearing it.  And it was to learn that Hargreaves had indeed heard on the buzzing grapevine that “Charlie” had been commandeered to rescue orphaned kittens, “dutifully” reported it to his employers and hinted that strong action, perhaps even dismissal, should be the result.

“Davey has told us the whole story and admirably tried to shoulder all the blame.  You and he acted with the best of intentions however and we don’t propose to take the matter any further,”  Arthur asserted.

The colonel, who was, as Jimmy thought he might be, an animal lover, was thrilled to hear of how the kittens had been rescued in the nick of time.

“If only everyone cared for each other and more vulnerable creatures, there never would be need for soldiers or battles,” he sighed wistfully, the irony of his uniform and the war work he had so lately and animatedly discussed apparently lost on him.  Hands clasped behind his back, he had paused from pacing the room to study the painting of wild horses and suddenly he spoke as if to himself.  “Follyfoot Farm is a beautiful place.  A little piece of Heaven fallen down to Earth.  Would that I could fill its empty stables with tired, forgotten, cruelly treated horses and its magnificent buildings with people to care for them, perhaps make a home here for those with nowhere to belong…” 

Behind his back, Arthur smirked as he exchanged a contemptuous glance with his wife and Prudence tapped her forehead in response.  The gestures, mild though they were, saddened Jimmy.  His employers could be kind, thoughtful people when it suited them yet at other times their lack of compassion chilled him.  He knew exactly what Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks meant. It WAS a shame if so much could be done to help the less fortunate and nothing WAS done.  Still, it wasn’t his place to say so.  Even if Lord and Lady Maddocks DID claim they regarded him as a friend nowadays, there always would be the gulf of him having been born into dire poverty and they born into vast riches. 

Arthur coughed loudly and, startled out of his reverie, his brother turned back to the conversation, seeming to forget he’d even spoken at all.

“Davey will stay to attend to the Farm’s upkeep.”  Prudence continued outlining their plans to close Follyfoot as if stables and horses had never been mentioned.  As many staff as wished to be and who were prepared to leave Whistledown (with war a distinct possibility, some of the more patriotic had already joined up) would be allocated posts elsewhere.  “Hargreaves is to be pensioned off.  My husband and I have heard and seen enough of his bullying over the years and are well aware his nickname is Keeper of Keys.”

“We are not so out of touch as you may think,” Arthur added in amusement as Jimmy started.  “Jimmy, I hope you and your wife will give our offer very serious consideration although, given the urgency, I’m afraid I must press you for a quick answer.   The staff  look up to you as do we.  Without your influence, Davey might well have taken the same destructive path as his father.  Certainly if you hadn’t taken it on yourself to be his mentor I would have fired him long ago.  We would trust you with our very lives.  I hope and pray your answer will be yes.”

*****

Jimmy sighed as he headed for the kitchens to fetch Private Jones.   Had there only been himself to consider, the decision would have been an easy one, for he felt he owed a heavy debt of gratitude to Arthur and Prudence.  If they hadn’t been willing to give him a job, his fate would have been the same destitution and despair suffered by many men unemployed in the Great Depression.  But leaving the little village that had always been her home would break Rose’s heart and probably their children’s too.  And in the outbreak of war London would be a far more dangerous place to be than Whistledown.  There was talk that this war would be far, far worse than the last with new, terrible machines to kill and thousands of bombs raining down from the skies.  He sighed again, wondering what would be the outcome of it all.

The rough Cockney voice, peppered with swear words and greeted by roars of laughter, assailed his ears long before he reached the end of the corridor leading out to the kitchens.  But still he was unprepared for what he saw. 

Not a stroke of work was being done.  For some strange reason, in pride of place on the kitchen table, next to an empty box, crumpled tissue paper, opened bottles of beer and wine and hastily abandoned pastry and rolling pin, sat an expensive-looking, brand new brass mantel clock.  Davey and the kitchen staff sat or stood around drinking alcohol from mugs and glasses.  Hargreaves, arms folded on the kitchen table, head nestled in their crook, was fast asleep, snoring drunkenly, an almost empty bottle of whiskey and tell-tale drained whiskey tumbler by his elbow.  Jimmy had a sneaking (and unfounded, he told himself sternly, remembering his strong judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged Christian principles, but nonetheless the suspicion persisted)  that the handsome young soldier with the devil of mischief in his eyes, cocky, gap-toothed grin and attentive Follyfoot audience had plied Keeper of Keys with drink…

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #25 on: September 19, 2010, 08:26:32 PM »
It’s only brief but thought I’d better update before everyone forgets what this story is all about!  :D

***Chapter 19***

***Slugger’s Story***
(Part One)

Folk often remarked that Slugger Jones, with his gift of the gab, must have kissed the Blarney Stone and Slugger Jones confirmed it was indeed so.  Which was an amazing achievement considering that he had never once set foot on the Emerald Isle. 

He did, however, have some half dozen explanations as to how it came to be so, ranging from the wild tale that his maternal grandfather, when lowered to the Stone, had secretly chipped off and pocketed a piece as a keepsake for his baby grandson, to the even wilder tale that a mild earth tremor in the 1800s sent a chunk of Blarney Stone flying five miles away over county Cork, where a distant ancestor, being an athletic and resourceful Corkman, leapt up to catch it, and which had been passed down through generations ever since.  Oh, and I should add much depended on the questioner:  both children and drunks, for instance, would be regaled with an account of the Blarney Leprechaun, which would leave children enchanted and drunks even more baffled than they were before.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Slugger could hold listeners spellbound with his rambling stories.  (Many years later repetition gave him the power to bore his listeners too but that’s a power given to us all in the fullness of time and another matter altogether.)

At any rate, as Jimmy entered the kitchen, Slugger had persuaded the Follyfoot kitchen staff to open bottles of wine and beer and was holding their undivided attention with amusing tales of travelling folk, life in the Army and the silliness of protocol. 

There was, at best, a tenuous connection to Slugger’s claims to an Irish ancestry.  Back in the 1900s, his grandmother Mary Ann Jones, finding herself widowed with four small children to provide for, had married smooth-taking Irishman Pat O’Hara, in the hope he would provide for them, while Pat O’Hara, finding himself wishing to be provided for in an idle lifestyle, had married Mary Ann Jones in the hope of being provided for in one.  Both parties being disappointed in their aspirations, it was inevitably a stormy marriage:  Pat drank and Mary Ann swore as she hurled pots and pans at him when he staggered home drunk; Mary Ann refused to consummate the marriage and insisted he slept by night on the threadbare couch, Pat snored drunkenly as he slept on the threadbare couch by night and whiled away the days propping up bars, telling the children tall stories about his supposed heroic exploits and being another mouth to feed.  Worn out by her daily toils, poor Mary Ann died of a heavy dose of flu and the children, by now almost grown up and alarmed at the prospect of being expected to care for their lazy, drunken stepfather, began to quickly flee the nest.

Fifteen-year-old Alice Jones ran off with her boyfriend sixteen-year-old Tom Bennett and they never stopped running afterwards.  They moved from place to place, obtaining only casual work and dodging rent collectors, debt collectors, policemen, judges and irate shop owners foolish enough to agree to “tick” along the way.  Tom was good with his fists while Alice, perhaps from listening to her stepfather, was good at talking her way out of difficult situations.  Runner, scam, rat droppings, coppers, bedbugs and moonlight flit were all words their little son, born eighteen months and two miscarriages after they set off from their original starting block, was familiar with from a tender age. 

Cocky young devil was an adjective often heard in reference to Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks’ batman.  He was a thick-set, ruddy-faced, talkative man in his mid-twenties who seemed well able to look after himself.  As indeed Slugger Jones could.  He had had to be.

Eddie Shaw of Eddie Shaw’s Travelling Fair had been startled from his bed and his wife’s plump arms and voluptuous breast by a thud-thud-thudding on his caravan door one foggy night, opening it to the icy air and a small boy, no more than two or three years old, face red and fierce, hands curled into thick fists, who was about to land another knock and instead catching Eddie, who had stooped down to him, square on the nose.
 
“Bleedin’ hell that hurt, you little bu…slugger!”  He hastily corrected himself, moved by the tear stains shining on the young visitor’s grubby face.  His wife, who had followed him to the door and was still fastening her dressing gown over her naked body, suddenly screamed over his shoulder. 

Barbara had espied what looked like the corpse of a woman crumpled nearby in the miserable mish-mash of January slush…



Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #26 on: October 03, 2010, 02:37:44 PM »
This chapter is getting waaay too long so I thought I’d post the first half.  Hope you don’t mind the rambling again  ::) it’s just I had a very strong picture of Eddie Shaw in my head so decided to run with it…  >61<

 
***Chapter 20***

***Slugger’s Story***
(Part Two)


Despite the swirling January snow, carrying her few belongings and, for much of the way, her young son too, Alice Jones had determinedly walked ten miles to Eddie Shaw’s Travelling Fair only to faint from hunger at the very last hurdle. 

She and her child were all alone in the world now.  Tom Bennett had been killed in a fall from a roof while working as a labourer and there being no insurance pay-outs to common law wives or illegitimate offspring, Alice was left with only the pittance that they had managed to save.  In those days, men were given preference in the jobs market and unmarried mothers, treated as the lowest of the low, had little chance of employment.  Without work there was no money to pay the rent and one day, after another fruitless search, she returned to find the locks changed and her worldly goods piled on the doorstep. 

For some days, Alice begged on the streets and slept where and when she could, but she had not yet given up hope.  The news that Eddie Shaw’s was setting up several miles away might mean the chance of something and she wrapped the toddler in an old woollen sweater and set off.  Her arms ached when finally she put him down so that she could rap on the caravan door but at that moment her weak body finally gave out and she crumpled to the ground. 

Convinced Alice had died and not knowing what to do except to continue hammering on the door in her place, the two-year-old was hysterical.  Even more so as he felt himself floating in the air when the tattooed stranger snatched him up by the arm as both he and the plump woman hurried over to his mother.  They were shouting and swearing and, alerted by the commotion, strange-looking people, the like of which the little boy had never seen before, began to emerge from caravans and tents:  an enormously fat woman puffing and panting as she waddled up the slope; a lady and a man in sequin-sparkling semi-costumes and with glittering moons and stars painted on their faces; someone wearing a purple satin cloak as if he/she had lately flown there.  Thinking he must be to blame for the mayhem and quite terrified, being far too young to understand they wanted to help, poor little Slugger added to the terrible din with ear-splitting screams. 

Neither Slugger nor Alice could know how that day would  change their lives. 

Eddie Shaw’s Travelling Fair, with its acrobats, clowns and strongmen; with its magicians, dancers and singers; with its freak show and its music hall parodies, was hugely popular though Fair was probably not an accurate description of the nomadic show.  It was a curious travelling circus minus circus animals - indeed, the only animals to be found anywhere were the horses that pulled the caravans and which were never expected to perform any tricks any time by anybody.  A carousel, a handful of  children’s rides and try-your-luck stalls made up the “fair”, but the real stars were its eccentric characters:  the lonely and the unloved; the strange and the unwanted; those who were passed by and those who never quite fitted in:  flotsam and jetsam cast adrift on life’s ocean come together and gaining strength from each other.

Eddie Shaw was an odd mix of a man.  A violent, hard drinking, heavy smoking ex-con, he could terrify grown men and yet be a gentle giant with the weak and vulnerable. 

He had killed twice.

Once in a red mist of rage after seeing a man kicking a kitten to death.  Eddie was tried for manslaughter, but the case was dismissed on a legal technicality.  There was no legal technicality to set him free next time.

Wealthy Barbara and Jack Swales had lately bought The Oak Tree, one of the pubs he delivered to on his rounds as a drayman.  Like Eddie, Barbara was an animal lover and they had got into the habit of exchanging banter and small talk as she brought apples or carrots for the horses that pulled the dray.  Gradually the small talk became the confidences of friends. 

From the very beginning, Eddie had remarked on the bruises and black eyes, but Barbara insisted she was accident prone.  When finally she admitted to what he already knew, she pleaded with him not to touch Jack. 

“I love him,” she said desperately.  “I can change him.  He don’t mean to do what he does.  It’s the drink talking.”

The last day of her marriage, she limped towards Eddie, bloody, bruised and broken. 

“Jack raped me again last night,” she whispered, as she fell sobbing on his shoulder.

The prosecution said that Jack Swales’s death had been particularly brutal.  That he’d been flung about like a rag doll, kicked and stamped on, punched so hard that one eye was knocked out of its socket and his tongue pushed to the back of his throat.  That the walls and floor were streaked with a mass of unrecognisable blood and bone that once was a human being and that Edwin Albert Shaw should be sent down for a long, long time.

When, twenty-five years later, Eddie finally tasted freedom again, Barbara, who’d visited him every week in prison, was waiting.  Both now in their late forties, they married and sold up The Oak Tree, bought caravans and horses and followed the open road with their travelling fair…



Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #27 on: October 09, 2010, 11:00:16 PM »
I had to break the chapter up once more as it got too long.  I should have the fourth and final part of Slugger’s Story ready either tomorrow or in a few days’ time and then I’ll get back to the original story, which is all over the place, seeing as I flew off at a tangent yet again  ::)

***Chapter 21***

***Slugger's Story***
(Part Three)
[/b]

By the time Slugger and his mother were welcomed into the strange community, Eddie and Barbara had long since retired to pull strings from behind scenes and appointed the flamboyant Maximus D’Arcy ringmaster. 

“We ARE the circus.  I AM the circus,” Maximus D’Arcy (aka Eric Waters) classically trained actor, fired from a west end show under a cloud of scandal about his sexuality, was fond of quoting, shaking his long, blond curls, wiping crocodile tears from his pale blue eyes after some real or perceived slight, and flicking back his purple satin cloak in theatrical gesture. If he had a new lover to say it to, so much the better. 

Things happened in Eddie Shaw’s Travelling Fair.  Things like Max walking hand in hand with another man.  Even little Slugger knew that if the old horseshoe lay on the top step of D’Arcy’s pink-painted caravan it meant that he was “entertaining” and NOT to be disturbed although, in childish innocence, he imagined entertaining meant he must be showing off his juggling or showmanship skills.  Which, we shall never know, perhaps Max did.

“We ARE the circus!” became familiar words as mother and son settled into their new lifestyle, Alice being hired as a dancer, but, like all the show folk, helping out with everything else, from selling tickets to grooming the horses to acting as magician’s assistant.  It was a  rallying cry,  a cure-all, an explanation, a consolation.  It was said if the box office takings were down or if the box office takings were up, if the evening meal was late, if somebody sneezed, if somebody laughed, if torrential rain was gushing down and strong winds threatening to uproot the big top.

The Joneses loved being part of the insanity.

As the very youngest, Slugger (whatever his real name was soon lost in the mists of time:  he was Slugger to one and all, even his own mother) grew used to being cooed over by Freda (Fat Lady with Moustache) or watching the Kowalskis, gifted acrobats, dance on high wire, or to being carried on the strongman’s shoulders when Samson wasn’t practising fire-eating or pulling heavy weights with his teeth. 

His schooling was erratic and he gained only a smattering of formal education.  He was ostracised by the other children, who picked fights and called him “one of the dirty gypos”, but Slugger was fiercely proud of his background.  He thought of the travelling fair as his home and the travelling folk as his kith and kin and would have defended his friends to the hilt.  Moreover, he had discovered a taste and a talent for boxing and he thoroughly enjoyed taking assailants, often two, three, even four at a time, by surprise with nifty footwork and prowess with his fists.  In an ideal world, the educational establishments he attended would have seized the chance to bask in the reflected glory of Master Jones’s athletic skills and he would have been feted and begged to demonstrate the Queensberry rules or at least be snapped up by their football or cricket team.  But this is not an ideal world, prejudice is rife, and instead Slugger spent more time defending himself than being educated.

He was barely fourteen when Alice, her lungs never very strong after the early years of dire poverty, caught pneumonia and passed away.  The Shaws paid for a grand funeral.  An ornate gravestone and the statue of an angel marked her last resting place, under the yew tree, sheltered from the north wind and ravages of time. 

Slugger had always had a natural affinity with the horses that pulled the caravans though, sadly, they were far fewer now than they had once been as increasing fortunes purchased motorized caravans and replaced horse power.  Afterwards, wishing to be alone in his grief, he rode his favourite horse, Dandy far, far into the night

By the silent light of the moon, through a mist of tears, he watched the blue smoke of their breath rise and fade on the icy air and tiny flakes of snow fall into the blanket of white.  All that he had was gone...


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #28 on: October 16, 2010, 10:10:37 PM »
Whew, Slugger’s story went on much longer than I originally intended!  ::) I’ll fast forward some years in the next chapter.  This is it for a little while tho as I’ll be busy with another writing project for a few weeks.  :)
 
  
***Chapter 22***

***Slugger’s Story***
(Part Four)


An hour or more, while the snow gathered an angry strength, frosting the barren tree braches and freezing the chattering stream, Slugger rode aimlessly through the lonely hills, pondering on his uncertain future.  He had left school just a few short weeks ago and was free as a bird to go anywhere he chose.  But where would he go?  He had no home, no money, no job.  The travelling fair was the only life he had ever known, the only family he had ever loved.  He rode slowly back, having reached no answer, a solitary trail of hoof prints growing sadly behind him in the quiet winter’s snow.

Eddie and Barbara were waiting, shivering, by the edge of the camp, their soaking hair plastered against their pinched faces as if they’d been watching out for him on that cold, cold night for some time.  

“Where the hell have you been?”  Barbara demanded, running to him as he jumped down from Dandy, her heavy eyeshadow and thick mascara smudged by the tears she had shed for the youngster.  “We’ve been worried sick.”

Slugger shrugged.  “Riding.  Wondering where to go, what to do.  I got no job and nowhere to live now Ma’s dead.”

Eddie half laughed, half cried as he squeezed Slugger’s shoulder.

“You ****ing little idiot.  This is where you live, boy.  You think we’d kick you out?”

“And welcome home,” Barbara said quietly,  her voice choked with emotion, as she gave him a tender peck on the cheek.  

He told Dandy all about his unnecessary worrying the next time they rode out together.  In the absence of companions his own age the horses had long been his confidants.

Sometimes, deep in the arms of sleep, he would dream a strange dream of another life, another time.  Sometimes the dreams were so real that he would hear a whinnying, a stomping of hooves and the vague murmur of voices, smell the sweet smell of the hay, almost touch the the gnarled wood of the ancient tree, lashed by lightning, but still defiant.  Madame Zola, the fortune teller, had told him this would be so, but he never once believed in ghosts, devils or omens, and would laugh at his wild imagination when he woke anew.  

Madame Zola was a small, round woman, nut brown and wrinkled by the sun, the only one among them who could speak the Romany tongue.  She had arrived at Eddie Shaw’s Travelling Fair one late summer’s evening a year or so after his mother’s death, when the smell of newly cut grass scented the air and a red sun was sinking slowly below the horizon.  The company was in relaxed mood, laughing and joking, preparing to move on the next day.  She cast her shadow first, briefly darkening where Eddie stood smoking, to whisper something in his ear.  Those close enough to see, reported that he started and turned deathly white but, whatever secret they shared, they took to their graves, for the mood turned suddenly lighter.  Eddie guffawed, showing a mouthful of yellow, broken teeth as he plucked the last of the cigarette from his mouth and stomped it beneath the heel of his boot.  

“Then you’re welcome to travel with us,” he was heard to say...

(Over 8000 characters - at the rate I'm going, with all these different people, there soon WILL be!!!  ::)) so continued in next post...

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #29 on: October 16, 2010, 10:16:17 PM »
(continued from previous post)

And so it was that Madame Zola too joined the travelling fair.  She made no secret of the fact that she had come to die among her own kind and she told their fortune to any who would listen.  But of herself, Madame Zola revealed only her name, whether her own or no, and that, many years ago, as she claimed her spirit guide had predicted, she lost her husband and children when villagers set fire to the gypsy camp site; that she had wandered alone telling fortunes ever since.

“You have a way with animals,” she remarked one day, as Slugger prepared to take Dandy out for a morning canter.  She turned to him, her weak eyes wise though I’m afraid the irreverent youth sniggered at her words.  “In the fiercest storm the tree with the strongest heart will stand.  Your destiny is not of the warrior.  Your destiny will be to care for these noble creatures.” 

Madame Zola passed away in her sleep some six months later and, as he grew older and the dreams faded, Slugger forgot all about the strange prophesy.  On his own suggestion, he had begun to earn his keep as a fairground boxer and he felt he’d found his niche, thoroughly enjoying the thrill of the boxing ring, the roar of the crowds and the adrenalin of thunderous applause.  Several times, when the fair set up in a new town, Slugger, who had an eye for a pretty girl, fell in love, or thought he did, but he he loved too the freedom of the fair and was close as a grandson to Eddie and Barbara.  And while he wavered, torn between both worlds, his latest flame would inevitably tire of waiting and jilt him so that yet again Slugger would be left nursing a broken heart.

And then, as often happens, fate snatched the decision out of his hands. 

Eddie died of cancer and Barbara, in poor health, survived him by only a few months.  In the travelling fair, cracks began to appear and spread like shattered ice.  Such shows were rapidly falling from favour as cinemas gained popularity and the takings plummeted.  No new acts had been signed for several years, the Kowalskis had left when Anna became pregnant and others had retired.  The Shaws’ original intention had been to leave everything to Slugger, but sadly they never got round to making a will.  A nephew Barbara never knew inherited every penny and Frederick immediately set about selling the lot. 

Talk of an impending war consumed the country and on an impulse, telling himself he had no ties to keep him there, Slugger signed up to join the Army.  Ironically, he met his soul-mate on that very same day.

It was a rowdy bunch of patriotic would-be war heroes who met by chance at the recruiting station and who one and all agreed they deserved a last drinking binge before their postings.  Thus, without further ado, they sought the nearest public house and roared inside (if there is a more apt word to describe how they entered the Sword and Dragon, normally the sedate haunt of draught-playing, newspaper rustling gentlemen, I would dearly like to make its acquaintance) and, fuelled by alcohol and camaraderie, grew ever louder.  Nineteen-year-old Phoebe White did her utmost to take their jokes in her stride, this being only her second day working as a barmaid and having been warned to expect a certain amount of ribaldry, so she only flushed and smiled at the compliments.  But when one young fellow, unused to drinking such large amounts of alcohol and drunk as a lord, began slobbering over her she finally burst into tears.  Slugger jumped up to chivalrously rescue the damsel in distress only for a human mini tornado to beat him to it, flying through the door, tossing hat and coat aside in mid flight and wrestling the troublemaker so quickly and expertly to the beer-soaked floorboards that he begged for mercy.  All that was left for Slugger to do was to gallantly help both ladies to their feet and apologise for his companion’s lewd behaviour while a couple of his drinking buddies took Alfie outside for some much-needed fresh air.

Betty “Tiny” Mulholland returned Slugger’s smile and their eyes met.  No music played and no stars fell from the sky.  A punter pushed open the door, a red bus thundered past and the smoke and fumes of London’s rainswept night carried inside.  This was all.  Yet even before he learnt, as well as being head barmaid at the Sword and Dragon, Betty was, in her spare time, a wrestler and even before she learnt, as well as being a soldier, Slugger was in fact a boxer, they somehow knew they were kindred spirits. 

Her photo, cherished and crumpled and carried close to his heart, sat on the kitchen table at Follyfoot now.  Slugger grinned at Jimmy.  He hadn’t thought about Madame Zola’s prophecy in years, not until an hour or two ago when he’d been startled to come across the lightning-struck tree that he’d seen in his dreams.  It had been an odd feeling to see it again though he’d said nothing to Davey, who was talking nineteen to the dozen as he gave him an informal tour of Follyfoot.  It would have been too crazy to admit it was almost like coming home.

“We’ve been drinking to absent loved ones,” he said, raising his glass to Jimmy and winking.  And then he said something that sealed a friendship.  “Including loved ones I never knew but which Davey has told me all about.  To Beauty and Magic.”