Author Topic: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie  (Read 67359 times)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #135 on: September 01, 2013, 09:59:49 PM »
Chapter 18/Falling Shadows

One freezing November day, shortly after the rush of customers on their way to work, swaddled in thick winter clothes with hats and scarves muffling winter-pinched faces, Ted Hankey burst suddenly into the corner convenience store.   

“I can’t find ‘er nowhere!  She’s gone!”  He wrung his hands agitatedly, his face shining with tears that gathered a large streak of mucus as they streamed down his withered cheeks and dribbled down off the end of his chin. The fog was thick that morning and followed the frail old man inside like an ominous wraith.

Syed, who’d taken advantage of the lull to gravely peruse some paperwork, snapped immediately out of his reverie, hurried from behind the counter, turned the “Open” sign to “Closed” and clicked the lock. 

“Now.  And little Steven?”  He enquired worriedly.

His friend only stared at him blankly.  “I can’t find ‘er nowhere,” he continued, as if nobody had spoken.  “I can’t find ‘er.  Do you know where she is?  I can’t find Flo.  I can’t find ‘er nowhere!”

Syed started.  Ted’s wife Flo had been dead for decades.  He looked more closely at his friend and for the first time noticed that he was still in his slippers, there was an egg yolk stain on his wrongly-buttoned shirt and his weak grey eyes gazed somewhere far away. 

“I don’t know where she is.”  Trembling and distraught, Ted kept up the refrain like a lost child.  “I don’t know where Flo is.  Can’t you tell me where she is?”

Like many people in 1958, Syed had never heard of dementia.  Not knowing what to do, silently praying for guidance, he laid his hand gently on his companion’s shoulder.  “Come.  We drink tea.  You feel better...”

But Ted was not to be so easily pacified.  He grasped the shopkeeper’s arm and for a half hour or more, alternately begging, weeping and accusing, clung desperately to him, while Syed, almost afraid to move, as if he thought in his fragile state Ted might snap in two, did his best to console and reassure.  Slowly, and to his enormous relief, the elderly man by degrees became more aware of his surroundings and more like his usual self. 

 “What the bloody ‘ell am I doin’ ‘ere?  In me bloody slippers an’ all!”  Shaking his head as if to shake away the mystery, Al’ Ted looked down at his feet and back up at Syed.  “I must’ve dozed off in the arm-chair or summat, mate.  I ‘aven’t sleepwalked since I was nine years old!”  He chuckled as though it was all a grand joke.

If other worries hadn’t been weighing so heavily on his mind, Syed might have heard the tremor in his voice albeit carefully disguised.  While he seemed to make light of the matter, Ted was actually extremely upset.  His memory lapses terrified him.  It was old age, it happened to everyone, he tried to convince himself, and yet deep down knowing.  And so the two men went along with the charade, Syed because he actually believed the sleepwalking story and Ted because he was desperate to grasp at any straw in a world that was slipping further and further away from his grasp.

He did not want to stay for the tea Syed again proffered. He needed to get back, he said, to check on little Stevie.

And though he was still concerned for his friend, Ted’s mental health wasn’t the only thing troubling Syed.  A family crisis had arisen back home in India and as eldest male his presence was required there urgently.  He had no choice other than to return.  Delay might not only make the financial situation worse, but, even more worrying, if things were allowed to escalate the way they apparently were, there would be a rift in the family so great it may never be mended.  His flight to India had been booked and he was due to leave tomorrow while Margie took time out from college to care for the boys and the shop.  He only hoped he could sort out the family problems to everyone’s satisfaction and that Margie could cope on her own.

Kathy and Steve were still fast asleep when he walked with Ted down the long, curving street, the front door still wide open.  “I’ll be fine now, mate,” Ted said.  “No need to disturb no-one,” he added sheepishly. He had run a hand over his face and been embarrassed by its wetness.  He wanted to wash, change out of his dirty shirt, warm his soaking feet. Most of all, he didn’t want to alarm Stevie.  The little lad had been through enough in his short life.

Having no great faith in Kathy’s ability to empathise, Syed reluctantly agreed not to wake her.  Perhaps the best plan would be instead tell his wife what had happened and ask her to pass the information on to Kathy but to keep a very close eye on Ted while he was gone. 

A taxi was to take him to Heathrow Airport early tomorrow morning.  He would have to rely on Margie to make sure Ted was okay until he got back.  Syed turned round once, to return Ted’s wave.

They were never to see each other again.

*****

Margie Husain, working her way through a pile of ironing, sighed exasperatedly at her husband and raised her eyes at the sound of yet another thud from upstairs.  She was dog tired.  It was all very well for Syed, swanning off to India.  The house was a bloody tip, there was a stack of dishes in the sink, her college assignments still lay untouched and the boys, stuck indoors because of the atrocious weather, were bored and playing up.  It was hard enough at the best of times to study while juggling a home and kids even though Syed often helped out.  But now, in addition to all this, he expected her to keep the store open and play Florence Nightingale!

“And where he hell do you expect me to find the time?  Anyroad, Al’ Ted’s already got that bone idle Kathy one there.”  Margie spoke disparagingly.  Kathy Ross was not high on her list of favourite people.

“Please, Margie.  As a favour to me.”

And so Margie promised.  And at the time she meant it.  For Syed’s sake, as a favour to him, because she loved him. But, busy with the shop, the home and the kids, Margie, with every intention of doing so, somehow never got round to checking on Ted Hankey or even speaking with Kathy.  Time moved on, other things happened, the ocean of life ebbed and flowed, promises were swept away with the tide. 

Two weeks later Syed Husain boarded the flight home, feeling much lighter of heart.  The family crisis was averted, Pancha Ganapati and Christmas were fast approaching (amusingly, and not surprisingly, the boys were always keen to celebrate both) and he was looking forward to seeing his wife and sons again. 

And Margie was still busy, even more so. There was still the shop, the home, the kids and now their over-excitement in the run up to the December festivities and their father’s homecoming.

The plane came down shortly after take-off.  There were no survivors. 

And all that Margie, out of her mind with grief, could think of was escaping the street that held so many memories.  She left for her parents’ home that very same evening.  She never returned.  Her two brothers came at a much later date to sort out the house and shop. 

Nobody gave Al’ Ted a second thought.


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #136 on: September 01, 2013, 10:04:48 PM »
chapter 18/Falling Shadows

Kathy woke shivering to a house of biting cold and darkness.  She groaned.  The daft b****r had gone out again!  She was sick to death of Al’ Ted’s midnight rambles.   Since Syed’s departure, she’d been left on her own to deal with everything.  There were no more grocery boxes, no more cooked breakfasts, no more free babysitting services.  Ted couldn’t look after himself, let alone a four-year-old child.  There were odd times when he was how he used to be, but they were few and far between.  Most days he sat for hours staring into space and talking nonsense.  But the wandering off in the middle of the night, that was the worst part.  Convinced it was some year and day long passed and that he had to go to work, Ted would don shabby brown overcoat, faded grey cap, a scuffed pair of boots and go.  Securing doors, hiding clothes, it was all a futile exercise because he seemed to have some kind of psychic ability to find whatever he needed.  Kathy remembered, before the senility set in, that he’d talked about how he “sensed” things.  At the time she hadn’t believed him, but now it spooked her. 

Somehow Ted always found his way home too.  Once a couple of people who recognised him had brought him back, believing him to be drunk, the smell of alcohol still on his breath from the two bottles of milk stout he’d downed earlier.  Another time two police officers accompanied him. They said he’d been found in a confused state sitting on the steps of the Queen Victoria monument in the town centre, that it was lucky he had his pension book with him as a means of identification, and she should take “her father” to see his GP  tomorrow morning.  Kathy played the part of concerned daughter to perfection and promised she would.  No chance!  The last thing she wanted was to leave this comfortable accommodation and go back to bedsit land and if Ted Hankey got put in the loony bin, it was a foregone conclusion that she would.  Most times however nobody needed to bring him back.  He’d been known to become disorientated even in his own house and yet oddly enough he had the peculiar instinct of a homing pigeon, wandering back on his own in the wee small hours. 

A small figure appeared silhouetted in the doorway. Another nightly ritual.   As soon as he realised Ted had gone, Stevie would begin his patrol, going downstairs, checking the street from the doorstep, then checking every room, before coming back upstairs and starting all over again.  Kathy was never quite sure if it was the sudden cold or her son’s perambulation that stirred her from deep and blissful slumbers.  At least she had trained him to put the door back on the latch so that it seemed from the outside all was safely locked.  And, having strict instructions to not open the door again, the tiny guard would continue his sentry duties uninterrupted by peering out at the dark, deserted street through the letter-box.

“Mam, Uncle Te…”

“I know!  Go back to  sleep before I bloody well make you!”  Kathy grabbed a shoe from under the bed and threw it in his general direction, where it narrowly missed his head and landed with a noisy clatter on the floor. 

Hiccupping with choked sobs, Steve padded across the room and clambered back into the small sofa bed that had been resurrected from the junk room when they first came to stay. He pulled the covers over himself, his bare feet still icy from the cold lino, his little body shaking with emotion.  He didn’t know what had happened to Uncle Ted but he wasn’t the same any more.

Dawn brought home the stranger.  The little boy still lay wide awake, last night’s tears dried on his cheeks, watching the winter sunlight trail across the bright, bold wallpaper pattern, where each recurring image told a thousand stories: a family of settlers gathered round a small campfire eating from tin plates, their wagon and horses waiting nearby; a team of galloping horses pulling a wagon across the prairie; a Red Indian dismounted from his horse, shading his eyes to look towards the distant horizon, while behind him a Red Indian woman with braided hair, carrying a baby on her back and holding a small boy by the hand, emerged from their tepee.  So many times he gazed at those pictures, so many times he entered their imaginary world, so many times he travelled on their wagon trains, ate from their tin plates, lived in their tepees, rode the endless, dusty prairie on their horses.  Because there nothing ever changed and here nothing was certain. 

He could hear Uncle Ted, or the man who used to be Uncle Ted, moving about downstairs.  Often his presence would be enough to reassure Steve and at last he would sleep.  But in the early morning of winter’s shadowy half light a sudden ticking broke the stillness.  Uncle Ted, before he became someone else, before the sun wept and went away, before the skies turned grey and ice cold, when they would look through library books at animals and nature, had told him about the death-watch beetle boring through the damp wood of old houses, their tapping to call to one another not unlike the ticking of a clock.  And as he lay listening to the solitary sound in the silence it seemed to grow louder.
 
Until the steady tick-tock echoed all around the earth.

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #137 on: September 08, 2013, 02:23:19 PM »
I really need to start moving this fic forward now while adhering to the original premise (would help if I worked out a plot beforehand!  ::)). So this is a revamp of an earlier chapter from when the snow falls(part one) to take us up to where Kathy and Steve are at the present time in the story.  BTW (as you might guess  ;) I don't like brass bands! >49<)

chapter 18/Falling Shadows

It was a handful of days to Christmas.  Yesterday’s snow, filthy with traffic fumes and the afternoon’s rain, lingered in patches on pavements and piles in gutters; stores heaved with happy, miserable, weary and panicky shoppers; a Salvation Army band played in the town square, turning angelic Christmas carols discordant through the harsh medium of cornet, trumpet and trombone; children’s faces shone with excitement and expectation at the colourful array of toys displayed in shop windows.

But the small boy had no dreams or wishes for Christmas and the world was black and white.  Mam told him there was no Father Christmas to bring presents and so there would be none.

Nor any Christmas tree with coloured flashing lights though they shone brightly in the window of the house further down, where two little half-Asian boys spilled into the foggy, slushy street with bike, pedal car and fist fight.  He watched from his bedroom window as their mother came to the door, quilted dressing gown that reached down to her ankles, unbrushed salt-and-pepper hair tousled over her shoulders, waving a ladle that must have been dipped in gravy, for brown dots splattered grey snow as she shouted something and the boys grabbed their toys and scurried inside.

Their Daddy owned the shop on the corner of their long, curving street and people grumbled to each other that Syed should make up his bloody mind whether he was English or Asian, what with celebrating Christian and Heathen festivals and opening on Sundays and Holy Days, and it was his wife wore the trousers in that house and, pound to a penny, his family had ostracized him for marrying an Englishwoman.  Though they told Syed none of this as they shopped there on Sundays and Holy Days.

Steve liked plump, jolly Syed.  He envied the two boys having a father.  He thought he remembered having one too once though he couldn't be sure.  He thought he remembered a tall man who lifted him on his shoulders and took him down to the Farmer's Field where kids went with mums and dads to feed the ponies.  But what became of him, if he ever was, he didn’t know.  And then Syed and the two little half-Asian boys and their mother and Uncle Ted, they all disappeared too.

Ted Hankey, who once predicted the future, was unable to predict his own demise.  One evening he was grey as the ashes in the cold hearth.  One night he went to sleep.  One morning he never woke.

Kathy’s initial delight upon learning that, prior to his illness, Ted had taken himself down to the Housing Department, to have her name officially added to the rent book, was short-lived.  Yes, it did mean she automatically succeeded as tenant of the three-bed property, but it also meant the Council required more information in order for her rent to be paid.   And Kathy was already on a very slippery slope.  With stolen letters and documents as proof of identity, she’d used several different names and addresses at various unemployment offices ever since arriving in Liverpool almost two years previously, partly to throw Ethel and Millie off her scent, partly because it turned out to be an extremely lucrative practice.  But the lies were catching up with her.  In January a letter arrived to inform her that her claim was being queried “while further  investigations could be made”, with a sombre warning that claimants who made false representation would be prosecuted.  Worse, she still had the whinging kid to look after and Stevie had hardly stopped bawling since Ted and Syed and his family had gone. 

After Uncle Ted disappeared, the little boy often cried himself to sleep though he knew he should have been used to it by now.  People and things always disappeared:  the tall man who might or might not have been his father; the house they’d lived in before and Grandma and Aunt Millie; the black cat who snoozed on the backyard wall and the white plastic horse he’d nicked from Woolies; Uncle Ted and Syed; his red zip-up anorak and the long, curving street…

…And then one day his mother was gone too…

*****

But somehow he didn't cry for the mother who left him in the orphanage and never came back.  He heard them say he was a strange little boy and very stoic and he thought stoic meant stick and he must be growing up into a stickman so he practised walking like one, arms outstretched, taking giant strides, bumping into Miss Pat, who scooped him up laughing.  He smiled shyly back.  Miss Pat was nice.  Maybe she wouldn't disappear for a long time.  But he hoped the horse hadn't disappeared!

Now if you believe, and some of you may, that a toy has always been a toy and nothing more, then you have never been four years old.

The small boy bottom-shuffles down the high sweeping stairs, butterflies of excitement fluttering in his stomach.  The bottom step, the beat of his heart, the gap of the half-open door!  His head barely reaches the brass knob as he pushes it open.  By day the playroom is a hive of activity, but now all is deserted, paint easels, games, boxes and chairs stashed against the walls, only the smell of chalks, paints and pine disinfectant giving any clue that it has ever been used at all.

He giggles breathlessly at the strange whiteness of the moonlight filtering through the slats of the closed blinds, hears the patter of his bare feet on the uncarpeted floor.  An uneasy draught filters through the unpeopled room, an uneasy silence touches every corner of the night, a thrill of daring carries him in its spell.

He slows his step, holding out his empty palm.


“Hey, Freddie,” he says gently.  “Hey, boy!“  And in his imagination the rocking horse neighs and rears.

“Easy.  Easy, boy.  Nobody’s gonna hurt you.  Carrots, see? I bringed you carrots.”

Biting his lip in concentration, he comes closer to the snorting horse that digs the ground with its hoof - a field now, dark and moonlit and deep in the breath of winter, silhouettes on a pure white landscape of snow.


“Easy, boy,”  he whispers again, and in his mind's eye, the rocking horse lowers its dappled grey head for him to climb on to its back. He giggles again.

“Good boy, Freddie.”

He stands on tiptoe to catch hold of the reins, clinging grimly on, one foot aground, one foot flailing to reach the stirrup, hopping, skipping, jumping in vain, tears of frustration springing to his eyes when he bangs his heel on the rocking horse’s side and tumbles noisily down.

A flood of light bursts into the room.  Voices raised in subdued alarm.

“Steven, this is very naughty, sweetheart.  How the **** did he get down here without anyone noticing?”


“Jesus, anything could have happened to the poor mite!  Who's Night Duty?”

Steve couldn't understand why they made so much fuss.  Lots of times when he lived with Mam he would creep downstairs in the middle of the night after she put him to bed and play while she was drunk.  He was too young to  realise they made the fuss because they cared about him.  The orphanage was a small, cosily run place, with trained, dedicated staff.

But children were moved on when they were five, to the Children’s Home, and his fifth birthday was fast approaching…

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #138 on: September 29, 2013, 05:23:01 PM »
Apologies for the jump in years in this chapter, but I think it’s probably time I began to draw this long, meandering story to a close.  >117<

***chapter 19***

***Forgotten***

Governments come, governments go, and governments, with a cynical eye to forthcoming elections, bribe voters.  And if the electorate can be bought with promises of more pounds in pockets, a bigger house, and a bigger car, then somebody must pay for it all.  And so, inevitably, those at the very bottom of the heap become the easiest target and have even what few pennies they own snatched away. 

Election fever swept the air and the UK voters were bought for thirty pieces of silver.  It was an outright victory for the ruling party.  Scenes of jubilation were splashed across TV screens; supporters of the victors danced and sang far into the night; toasts were raised in joyous celebration.  And funds were slashed from social care. 

Nobody bothered to count the human cost.

The Children’s Home, already a pauper, spread out its palm and gazed in dismay at its meagre allowance.  Cutting back was the only solution.  No more holidays to the seaside for the kids, no more musical instruments, no more fortnightly trips to the cinema.  Wages being the biggest outlay, there was no choice but to hobble by with the bare minimum of staff on the bare minimum of pay.  Consequently, most employees were untrained and viewed their employment as nothing more than a stop-gap until something better came along.  Oh, one or two, despite the pittance of a wage, despite the long hours, despite the emotional exhaustion, genuinely loved their charges and did their very best for them, often working unpaid overtime or bringing in treats paid for out of their own money. 

But one or two could never be enough to cater for the needs of every child, when the Home housed sixty to eighty or ninety children, ranging in age from five to fifteen, and those children came from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Ann survived a fire that killed the rest of her family.  Peter saw his father murder his mother.  Jenny had tried in vain to lock her bedroom door from her Uncle every night.  Rachel’s parents were alcoholics.  Brian’s widowed mother was in hospital and there was nobody else to look after him.  A handful of the kids were later adopted; several were fostered; a few, like Brian, returned  home.  The majority however found it impossible to settle anywhere and boomeranged back. 

As in Steve’s early life, nothing was ever certain.  New and old faces constantly came and went and the Home was beset by problems that the newspapers thrived on reporting:  older kids regularly sneaking out to get drunk or do drugs; pregnancies; runaways; a suicide; a fourteen-year-old girl found barely alive after her botched attempt at an abortion…

It was almost inevitable that a small, shy, sensitive boy, traumatized by his past, would be swallowed up and overlooked in this crowded, confusing environment.  Of course, he was fed, of course he had a bed to sleep in, of course he went to school.  But a child needs more than food, education and shelter. 

Steven Ross’s reputation grew with each passing day.

And yet, to begin with, his future seemed golden. At five years old, he was a healthy, intelligent and beautiful boy.  His hair was dark and glossy, his lashes long and curly, his soulful eyes, as a young girl once remarked to her boyfriend, when they sat smoking cigarettes on the steps of a rundown house in The Shakies, “a dreamer’s full of stories” (and to which he rejoined in baffled amusement “Yer been on the juice or what, girl?”). 

The staff joked he would break hearts and the little girls giggled and argued over him, vying with each other for his attention.  A smile from Stevie could set their hearts a-flutter and seal their happiness for a week. 

But the little boy, with his quiet air of self-sufficiency, rarely smiled and carried the worries of the world on his small shoulders.  Even at that tender age, there was too a flash of smouldering danger about him that erupted like a volcano into a red hot temper where defenceless creatures were concerned.  Danny Todd never again whiled away his boredom by throwing stones at cats; Kevin Renshaw thought twice about picking on the smallest kids after being on the receiving end of his anger - even though he was twice as tall and Stevie stood no chance, for at least it shamed a couple of bigger boys into taking action.

The only thing that seemed to calm Stevie - or Steve as he preferred to be called nowadays, emphasising his point by flying at a kid (who insisted on calling him otherwise to provoke a reaction) with the force of a tornado - was spending time with animals.  But lack of funds curtailed the children’s once regular days out to farms, as it did the authorities’ pre-election plans to allow them to keep small pets like guinea pigs and rabbits. 

And so the Children’s Home, once so bright and full of eager promise, rattled on by like a truck running out of fuel.  Apart from philanthropic donations from the general public, which provided occasional treats, only basic care could be given.  The same old toys, the same old books, the same old draughty “summer house”, a large, dated extension much in need of renovation, where the younger kids played indoors on bad weather days and which the older age group used in the evenings as a common room.  It was here in the summer house, when the winter snows came and it was too early or late or too cold to play outside, that little Steve first would pull a chair up to the window and watch the white flakes for hours, oblivious to everything around him.  It was a habit he never outgrew.

So the lonely years passed by.

They said he was strange.  A lone wolf; too quick to use his fists; too silent; too wild; too talkative; too calm.  The man his mother brought home shortly after Uncle Ted died, as they woke him with their drunken laughter and slurred voices, thudding and falling up the stairs, the creaking of Uncle Ted’s bed, and his mother’s strange throaty gurgles which made him anxiously go to investigate, said he was spawn of the devil. 

And somehow, in all the confusion, it was an easy mistake, everybody forgot he was a child.

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #139 on: September 29, 2013, 05:39:35 PM »
Chapter 19/Forgotten

“That bloody brat will end up in jail!”  At eighteen, Jenny Dillon was not much older than some of her charges and sometimes behaved as though she were actually much younger.  She sighed in exasperation, churlishly throwing down the newspaper she’d been perusing, and hauled herself up out of her comfortable arm-chair. 

Her friend Sharon Ferguson, a year older, nodded agreement and got up with equal reluctance.  Both girls were rostered on Play Duty.  It was meant to be a time of organised activates for the younger kids even when, as now, hailstones rattled on the tin roof of the “summer house” and Play Duty was being held indoors.  Instead they had sat with arms folded and enjoyed a leisurely chat about make-up, chocolate, how to shake off a persistent ex who wouldn't take no for an answer, then checked what was on at the pictures.  Until eight-year-old Steven Ross, with a furious roar, crashed his fist down on the table and then swung it dangerously towards another boy, who immediately fled towards the protection of the two nurses - as the staff were called, and whether or not they held any qualifications, though the latter was more usually the case.

Had either teenager bothered to watch the children, they’d have been aware that Steve had been quietly working on a jigsaw until Derek deliberately knocked it over.  It was the same jigsaw, of a mare and her foal in a field on a bright summer’s day, that Steve had worked on dozens of times before, but today, for reasons known only to himself, Derek took exception to seeing it being completed yet again.  But it was Derek who was consoled by Nurse Sharon (if a vague “Are you okay?” delivered in a tone that warned “you better say yes” can be considered such) and Steve who had three points marked against his name in the Bad Behaviour Book by Nurse Jenny.  Which meant he wouldn’t be allowed the Sunday supper treats of cake and watching the kids’ movie screened by a temperamental, loudly whirring projector on the large wall of the main hall.  And which didn’t really matter anyway because, stung by the injustice, he stole a chocolate éclair, broke several plates while reaching for it, and caused a near riot.  The Sunday movie was cancelled and everyone sent to bed early.  And the little boy had yet more points added against his name in the Bad Behaviour Book.

*****

By the age of fourteen, Steve also owned a somewhat impressive police record.  Housebreaking, stealing cars, drunk and disorderly, vandalism, fights, the list, though he was unaware of it, nearly rivalled that of a certain Ron Stryker of Whistledown, and in just two more years would run neck and neck with it. 

Almost eight years to the day of her idle forecast, and just as Jenny Walker nee Dillon learnt she was expecting her second child, not having given the Children’s Home a second thought since she’d handed in her notice over seven-and-a-half years earlier, for a better paid job in the local soap factory, her prediction was fulfilled.  So perhaps Jenny was blessed with the gift of second sight.  Or perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  So many people keen to clear his spiralling path to destruction, so many people pushing him down on his way.  Dangerous.  Corrupt.  Useless.  Hostile.  Surly.  Indifferent.  Give a dog a bad name and hang him.   

On the same snowy February morning, at the very same moment that Jenny was walking carefully down the sand-dusted steps of her doctor’s surgery and mulling over the confirmation of her pregnancy, Steven Ross stood in the dock, being sentenced to twelve months Borstal training.

*****

The governors of the Children’s Home held a meeting to discuss the latest scandal.  It was agreed that, if only there had been the funds to pay for Ross to attend college he might have pursued a career working with animals, his only ever interest.  But it was also agreed that Ross had, of his own accord, more or less given up on formal education around the age of eleven when he consistently played truant, that there were more deserving children who wanted to make good, and that it was irrelevant in any case, there being no funds for anyone.  Miss Jean Stockham, being used to public speaking, was unanimously nominated to be spokesperson to the Press, who were clamouring for the Borstal story, and the motion was passed that, as the boy was now sixteen and therefore no longer the Home’s responsibility, all information pertaining to him should be filed away.  There being no other business, the meeting was declared closed.

But some good came of all the penny-pinching from those who could least afford it.  Joe and Jane Bloggs had their bigger house, their bigger car, more money in their pockets; the Government had their votes in the bag.  So what did it matter that a life was wasted?

*****

He had never lost his childhood fascination for watching the snow fall.  Often he would lean against the barred window, oblivious to all around him, watching something only he could see.

After a while, the misty whiteness became another world.  He could remember when he was very small pressing his face against the cold glass of a window pane as the flakes fell ever faster, waiting in eager anticipation, but for who or what he never could recall.  Perhaps somewhere in that gentle silence there were people who loved.  Perhaps the mythical white horses of the foamy waves rose into reality and blended unseen into the snow.  Perhaps in the distance, fires burned brightly in the homes of strangers to welcome the weary traveller.  Anything was possible in this enchanted new land. 

There was a magic about the way footprints appeared and disappeared, about the way the crisp whiteness glittered like precious jewels when the pale sun caught prisms of light, about the pure joy in kids’ rosy faces when they built their snowmen and tended their every need with winter clothes and pipe. No two snowflakes ever alike, gathering speed, taking different shapes and patterns, carried on the wings of fate, tossed and turned in all directions, a feather for each wind that blows, yet every breath of ice cold air bringing each and every one together to blanket the earth with the warmth of hope. 

When the snow fell, a strange music played in his heart.  And he knew just as he had always known.  Somewhere, far, far away, someone, something, some dream waited…

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #140 on: October 27, 2013, 12:53:02 PM »
This chapter takes us back to the present time (well, circa 1971 anyway! ::)) partly because I kept finding Steve's childhood too harrowing to write, partly because I need to tie up loose ends now.  :)

***chapter 20***

***Little Cowboy Jimmy***

Tommy Jackson had never quite lost his schoolboy habit of chewing on pencils when deep in thought.  Biros became a big no-no when, at the age of twelve, he almost swallowed a biro top while working on a knotty arithmetic question.  Fountain pens, thanks to the manufacturers’ inconsideration of providing an ink-filling lever for the user’s convenience, often inadvertently pinched his lips or even broke altogether.  Gel pens were an acquired taste that he never acquired.  Oh, but pencils!  Just perfect for getting one’s teeth into, so to speak.  When he walked through the school gates for the very last time and set foot in the big wide world, he left behind his initials carved on the inside of a desk lid, an incomplete painting of a world cup football match and, should such an interesting archaeologist ever come to exist, a pencil specialist archaeologist’s dream find of several well-chewed pencils. 

Two years on, now seventeen, after drifting from job to job, and finding no interest or satisfaction in any of them, he was junior clerk in Whistledown Church’s cold, draughty cemetery office.  Where at that moment he leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head, chewing thoughtfully on a pencil and mulling over his dentist’s warning that all his pencil chewing was wearing down his teeth.

It was a bright, breezy day, warm where the sun stole kisses in moments when the breeze paused to draw breath, and Tommy was taking advantage of the rare circumstance of being left alone in the office (Mr Semple and Mr Fergus both being out on business) by watching the silver clouds scudding over the seventeenth-century graveyard.  Despite his mates’ teasing, his parents’ surprise, his sister Donna’s hoots of laughter and his girlfriend Sophie’s shudder when he told them of his latest employment, young Mr Jackson was not at all spooked about working in a cemetery office.  A job was a job, a wage was a wage and the dead were dead, he reasoned.  Besides it was hard to feel spooked when the brightly-coloured Yorkshire sightseeing bus pulled up outside twice a week, and eager tourists spilled out to spend half an hour taking photographs or making videos of the quaint church with its fascinating gargoyles and ornately carved pews, and to pause at the seventeenth century grave of Sir Richard Maddocks on which was carved the Maddocks family crest of horse, lion and eagle enclosed in a shield and the motto vires per licentia (strength through freedom).  Some wanted to know more about the Follyfoot Farm that Sir Richard “was founder of”, but, hailing from Ashtree, a small Yorkshire town several miles away, and having only worked there for three weeks, all that Tommy could tell them was that it was a home of rest for unwanted or retired horses and (which never failed to impress) had been built by the famous architect William Drumgold who also helped construct Buckingham Palace. 

He kept to himself the additional fact that at Follyfoot Farm dwelt too Dora, a very pretty maiden with a toffee-nosed accent and a charming predilection for using Yorkshire colloquialisms, and who set his pulse racing whenever he glimpsed her out riding or shopping.  But, having learnt who she was from the village baker  (who observed the youth’s smitten look as fair maiden purchased a loaf while amusedly relating the tale of how someone with the peculiar name of Slugger had burnt every single slice of the previous) and the baker, being an incurable romantic and keen to match-make, volunteering the information as she left) thought her so beautiful he was too tongue-tied to talk to her.  Which news filtering through to Sophie, via a mutual friend he was fool enough to confide in, had been the cause of their blazing row and Sophie storming off.  She had further thoughtfully shown great solidarity in his apparently being struck dumb by refusing to speak to him since. 

With a deep sigh, Tommy had begun to chew on the pencil once more when the church bells chimed the hour, reminding him he’d done no work whatsoever since Mr Semple left the office at one o’clock and Mr Fergus at 2.15.  He moved some paperwork around so that it looked as though he had, replaced the pencil he’d taken out of his mouth during the exertion, and leaning forward as a relaxing alternative to leaning backwards, rested his elbows on the desk, his chin in his fists, and contemplated the view.

And, as always, a certain grave, more recent than most, captured his gaze and made him frown in puzzlement.  It was situated in a secluded spot near the old church wall, sheltered from the strong whistling winds that blow down from the moors and the wild thunderstorms that tear fiercely over this part of the country, by a large yew tree that bent its head like a tender guardian, and only creaked and sighed gently when the wind gathered all its strength or the rain lashed its branches, as if it were a stately old lady amused by the antics of mischievous children.  This was the last resting place of one James (Jimmy) Turner  upon whose headstone was written the baffling epitaph “Little Cowboy Jimmy.  For many years groom, chauffeur and beloved friend to Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence Maddocks.  Our hearts were broken forever the day you left us.” Carved on top of the stone, a later addition by a sculptor specially commissioned by the Maddocks, were the small statues of two black horses.  (This had caused great controversy with Yorkshire council at the time as being “contrary to guidelines for headstones”, but, as one newspaper wit, thoroughly enjoying him or herself with the story, wrote, “Lord and Lady Maddocks rode rough-shod over the protests and galloped away into the sunset.  Or, rather, caught the evening flight to Brazil.”.)

cont/next page


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #141 on: October 27, 2013, 01:01:39 PM »
Chapter 20/Little Cowboy Jimmy

Directly opposite the grave was a memorial bench, the plaque of which was inscribed with “In Loving Memory of Jimmy Turner (Little Cowboy Jimmy) March 1900-December 1962.  A dear friend, greatly missed.”  (The council, it seemed, did not raise any objections to the two black horses that illustrated the wording.)  This bench, too, had been paid for by the Maddocks and every week, as requested, the cemetery officials placed fresh flowers on the late Mr Turner’s grave, the weekly invoice being forwarded to their London office where, as both Prudence and Arthur were usually in Brazil, one of their administrative staff passed it for payment.  (Tommy knew all this because he could apply himself when he wished to and his curiosity had led him to peruse the office records.)

Now none of this would have been surprising except, like everybody who had ever read a newspaper or switched on a radio or TV, the teenager knew a little about Lord and Lady Maddocks.  He knew they were something to do with international politics (though he took scant interest in politics) and he saw their photographs gracing the gossip pages, Lord Arthur talking with the young Prince Charles or Lady Prudence at a high society wedding or both attending some charity ball (though he skimmed over their photographs in his haste to get to the sports reports).  But what he did know for certain was that they were filthy rich and infamous for looking down their noses at those lower down the social scale.  There was even a Yorkshire slang word, pruarty, meaning snobbish.  He clearly recollected his late grandmother telling him the word originated from an old saying “as snobby as Pru and Art” and referred to Lord and Lady Maddocks.  So how had a lowly groom/chauffeur become their great friend and why was he called Little Cowboy Jimmy?  And what had they to do with Yorkshire anyway?  Nobody he asked seemed to know though one or two elderly residents said the Maddocks had lived briefly at Follyfoot in the 1930s.

Of course he had asked Mr Semple and Mr Fergus, but they were very busy people (even more so now that they often found themselves doing the work of the office junior) and, likeable though Tommy was, they yearned nostalgically for the previous junior, who'd returned to her college for the new term.  Check out Tockwith Library, they advised, as they hurried here and there, or wrote copious reports or put stamps on letters or filed away documents.  In fact, it would be extremely helpful to them if he did, Mr Semple added, as, Whistledown Cemetery Office’s upgrading to Tourist Information Office due to the ever-increasing number of tourists to the surrounding Yorkshire villages, had greatly increased their workload, and was the reason they’d hired a junior clerk in the first place.  The sarcasm sailed blissfully over the junior clerk’s head.  He dipped another biscuit in his tea and grimaced at the very idea of all the work involved in checking out Tockwith library.

And, chewing over these thoughts, Tommy, who did not believe in ghosts, suddenly bit down on the pencil so hard that he broke two teeth and, to his dentist’s delight and our pencil specialist archaeologist’s (should he ever come to exist) disappointment, was cured of chewing on pencils for all time.

The little white cemetery gate had suddenly creaked open and an enormous bouquet of colourful flowers had sprouted legs and taken it into their heads to wander into the churchyard…


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #142 on: November 24, 2013, 10:47:43 PM »
***chapter 21***

***Bertha***

The bouquet of flowers almost dwarfed her as she entered Whistledown Cemetery.  Bertha was eighty now, and had lost height over the years as her bones weakened, but she never forgot Jimmy’s birthday.  Nobody at Follyfoot did and she was very much a part of Follyfoot.  One of the lost and lonely people who had at last found somewhere to belong.

Some years before Dora was born, and prior to the horrific car crash that killed Jimmy Turner’s daughter, son-in-law and only grandchild, Prudence and Arthur Maddocks, being in nostalgic mood, had toyed with the idea of a three-month holiday at Follyfoot Farm.  Back in the 1930s, as newlyweds and newly-inherited property owners, they had, after quaffing several celebratory glasses of vintage champagne, decided it would be “a super jape” to spend a short time at Follyfoot “living among country yokels”. Of course they intended to, and did, lord it over their subjects and doubtless would have done with or without their titles of Lord and Lady Maddocks.  But who knows what magic of Follyfoot spun its charm and kept them under its spell?  Who knows why anyone Follyfoot has ever touched is drawn back again and again to enchanted memories?

Because that short time turned into years and if it hadn’t been for the Second World War they may have been there still and the whole background of our story rewritten.  They even added, without ever discovering that they had, a new word to Yorkshire colloquialisms, pruarty, meaning snobbish.  But the locals took them to their hearts despite their uppity ways and their open dislike of children (a sign at the gates sternly proclaimed “Strictly No Children Allowed”) for they were very generous employers and this in a time of the Great Depression.

The staff remained loyal, and in particular Jimmy Turner became a great friend, being hired quite by chance one cold January day as snowflakes fluttered in the wind and Prudence and Arthur were riding out of Follyfoot’s wrought iron gates (which were later removed to provide material for munitions) on their beautiful black horses, Beauty and Magic.  At first Arthur said truthfully that there they were already fully staffed, but upon hearing his name…

“Wait!  The Jimmy Turner of Loppington?  Little Cowboy Jimmy?  Why, we heard about you but two days ago. How very quaint!”

Jimmy, who was hired first as a groom and later as chauffeur, had acquired his nickname as a boy while earning a few precious coppers for his family by helping Alfie Archer deliver milk transported by horse and cart.  One day poor Dolly, startled by a cruelly thrown firework, reared, and was about to bolt through a crowded outdoor market when Jimmy quickly leapt on her back and amazingly managed to calm her.  The Yorkshire tale of brave Little Cowboy Jimmy and his prowess and empathy with horses was handed down through generations. 

But as time passed by history books occupied themselves with stories of two world wars and most of those who remembered Little Cowboy Jimmy, or were told the tale when children themselves, had grown old and passed away.  Even youngsters like Tommy Jackson, with elderly relatives who often reminisced about yesteryear, heard instead how the evacuees came from their city schools to live in Whistledown or how the land girls didn’t know the first thing about milking cows or how Phyllis Baker received news her fiancé had been killed in action, only to discover it was all a mistake, and wasn’t her face a picture of delight, and didn’t everybody clap and cheer and weep for joy, when he walked into Whistledown Church that Sunday?

Sadly, to Jimmy’s disappointment, the holiday at Follyfoot never did come about.  Prudence, who had never been as keen as Arthur on the idea, declared “one would quite prefer to go somewhere hot where one can be pampered and not to a backwoods knee deep in mud”.  But, in readiness, while the plans were still in the air, they had arranged for their agent Finlay Patterson to hire some staff so that the manor house could be ready for their grand arrival…

*****

Bertha Smith had woken early as usual, and when she finally drew back the thick curtains after lighting the gas fire, feeding the cat, and eating breakfast, she was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected brightness that streamed inside.  It was a perfect day to go to Ashtree, she thought.

A fine, frost-glittering morning, caught between winter and spring, with cottonwool snow glistening on blades of grass and droplets of ice dripping down from trees, as if to remind everybody that only last week a blanket of snow had fallen over Yorkshire and Yorkshire folk would do well not to forget the weather could be as wicked as it wished.  But now the sun, determined to impress those hardy Yorkshire folk too, glimmered a pale gold, and stretched trembling, tentative fingers of light through windows that had been coated with icy whiteness for so long. 

Yet Bertha’s cottage felt somehow cold and empty despite the clogging warmth of the gas fire and the black cat curled up on the rag rug before it.  A daintily embroidered tablecloth was spread over a small, round table, on top of which stood a large teapot covered by a hand-knitted tea cosy and the remains of breakfast:  a plate of home-baked bread, dish of yellow butter, jug of creamy milk, sugar-bowl, egg cup and china teacup and saucer, all prettily patterned with tiny red rosebuds, and all crowded on only one side of the table, making the chair opposite seem strangely forsaken.  As though someone else was meant to join in the homely little feast but couldn’t quite make it.  The whole cottage had an air of waiting.

You see, the people who were meant to come - well, they never arrived.

There was a teddy with a blue ribbon round its neck and a teddy with a pink ribbon round its neck still sitting atop the wardrobe on an upside-down cradle made out of a wooden orange crate.  There were knitting patterns, knitting needles, balls of wool and quarter-finished, half-finished and completed knitting projects of baby clothes and baby blankets spilling out of an enormous box in the cupboard, out of the way of Sooty Mr Cat (this was his official name; his friends knew him simply as Sooty).  There was a very special tin, a sky blue tin with pictures of butterflies and flowers, kept on the mantelshelf next to Freddie’s photo and next to her heart.  Inside this very special sky blue tin were scraps of paper covered in Bertha’s old-fashioned looped handwriting, dates and times, memories and poems, hopes and wishes and dreams, each and every one dedicated to the babies who were meant to grow up happy, secure and loved in this little cottage, and each and every one smeared with tears.

Bertha was a widow now, a sprightly woman in her fifties, with a ready smile and only the shadow that crossed her face, every now and then when she thought nobody saw, gave any hint of her sad tale. 

How as a young, slim bride of nineteen, with sleek black hair, bright blue eyes and flawless complexion, she had been carried over the threshold of the Tockwith cottage by her one and only true love, Freddie Smith, tall, dark and handsome, just as the fortune teller predicted.  How they had often talked and laughed about the large family they would have and wondered where on earth they would put everybody and made up their minds they would have to sleep them top and tail.

But the “eight beautiful children” also foretold never happened although the fortune teller promised the eldest girl would sing like a lark and the next-but-youngest boy would be a doctor. 

continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #143 on: November 24, 2013, 11:00:05 PM »
Chapter 21/Bertha

Miscarriage after miscarriage, year after year, broke Bertha’s heart.  Lovingly knitted layettes, cosy pram blankets, tiny woollen cardigans and jumpers, all were passed on, with bright smiles and hidden tears, to charity shops, churches and hospitals, in towns where nobody knew her and never knew her heartache.  The Great War came.  Freddie went off to fight for his country and Bertha knitted for the troops and the children whose Daddies were away.  The Armistice was signed.  Freddie returned home and the young couple made plans once more, in tears and whispers now, and once more Bertha knitted, but still the little ones would not stay.  Again she caught the tram to faraway towns with a bag full of baby clothes and wrote another tear-smeared poem for an infant lost.
 
Freddie died before the outbreak of a second terrible war.  Bertha knitted again for the troops, for the children whose Daddies were away, and for the ragamuffins evacuated from smoky cities to the fresh, clean air of Yorkshire, pouring all her love for the babies who never were into every stitch.   

The dark days of war ended and still Bertha knitted, for friends and neighbours, for the poor and orphans at home and abroad, for any mother-to-be or youngster she met.  It was often said, and perhaps not without a hint of truth, that every child born in Tockwith and the surrounding villages of Follyfoot, Froglea, Whistledown, Foxhill, Kettlefield, Haydingle, Hillingwood and Loppington, owned at least one pair of bootees or mittens or pram blanket or bonnet knitted by Bertha. 

Bertha always liked to keep herself busy.  And this was the very reason she was going to Ashtree today.  Charlie the postie, who was a fount of all village knowledge, had told her that Edna Baines said her sister Joan mentioned her friend Audrey, who worked at Ashtree’s telephone exchange, had recently overheard a very interesting telephone conversation.  Apparently, for a period of three months, a housekeeper, gardener, cook and butler, plus additional kitchen and household staff, were all required for Lord and Lady Maddocks’ long abandoned manor house at Follyfoot Farm.  (Overheard must surely have been a euphemism for eavesdropping, for Audrey always did seem to know an awful lot, from the name, weight and exact time of birth of Mrs Pickett’s new arrival to a detailed description of the hat Esther Woods would wear to her son’s wedding.

Audrey had further “overheard” that Finlay Patterson, Lord and Lady Maddocks’ representative, had set up office in Follyfoot’s nearest town of Ashtree, No 20 High Street to be precise, in order to conduct the interviews.  Which weren’t due to start officially till next week, Audrey explained, but Finlay would be getting the office ready on Tuesday.  Today. 

Bertha clicked off the gas fire, scratched the loudly purring Sooty Mr Cat’s chin in farewell, wrapped a hand-knitted scarf around her neck and tugged on her coat.  It was a brisk fifteen minute walk to Tockwith Library, where she could catch a tram directly to Ashtree High Street, some twenty-five miles away.  And though Follyfoot Farm was ten miles from the village of Tockwith, it was only four if she took out a large chunk of the journey by using the short cuts, first along the narrow bridle path, and then across Robinson’s Farm.  Within easy walking distance and she was well used to walking.  Folk who couldn’t afford tram fares and didn’t own a horse or cycle had walked everywhere back in her day, unlike the young nowadays, who had been fortunate enough to be born into a new world.  Why, there were even whispers that in the near future there would be no charge at all to visit a doctor, and of course very few youngsters went into the incredibly hard work of domestic service these days because there were very few establishments that required them.

And what Bertha didn’t know about working in a big house wasn’t worth knowing.  Her late Aunt Winnie had been, for many years up until his death, housekeeper for Squire Peacock of Loppington, and as a schoolgirl and before her marriage, Bertha had often gone to help out.  The skills she learnt then proved invaluable in later years.  After Freddie’s death, and inbetween her knitting, she had earned a living with all manner of jobs, from cleaner to laundrywoman, from parlourmaid to dishwasher, from cook to seamstress.  She didn’t particularly mind what job she did at Follyfoot manor house, but she had always been curious about The Haunted Farm, as everybody called it locally. 

Bertha herself had seen something once. 

It had been a foggy November Sunday during the War, the freezing air stealing her breath with its sting, her footsteps scrunching through hard snow as she made her way to Whistledown Church.  As she passed by Whistledown Lane, something, she never knew what, made her look towards the distant silhouette of Follyfoot Farm.  And just for a moment she was sure she saw, on the periphery of her vision, two ghostly black horses galloping noiselessly into the swirling mist.   All was silent. 

Save for the whistling wind.   “Come home! Come home! Come home!” It seemed to scream across the moors.


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #144 on: January 04, 2014, 03:19:36 PM »
***chapter 22***

***Finlay***

Finlay Patterson, Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence Maddocks' public relations representative, stooped to unravel a knotted cord as he attempted to fix the slanted blinds of the small office he’d hired, and was startled to find himself gazing  into the eyes of a stranger peering in through the window under said blinds. 

The middle-aged woman, with magpie-coloured hair, sparkling bright blue eyes (Finlay could testify to the colour of those eyes), rosy cheeks and flawless skin, smiled broadly, quite unperturbed, then drew herself up to her full height, and knocked meaningfully on the glass to indicate his next act in this unpredictable drama we call life should be to let her in.  A most unprofessional start to the week, Finlay thought, a trifle irritably, although he was too professional to let the caller know and obligingly opened the door.

And as he politely ushers Bertha Smith inside, perhaps now is a good time for us to pause and get to know Finlay, hitherto mentioned only briefly in our true Follyfoot history, a little better.

Finlay Angus Patterson was a tall, slim, silver-haired Scotsman and the perfect epitome of the old-fashioned British stiff upper lip.  No matter what crisis cropped up in the course of his work – and, his employers being extremely important and influential political people cast on a world stage, anything could and did happen – he never turned a hair.  Nor was anything Lord and Lady Maddocks did not want the Press to know ever revealed by Finlay, no matter how insignificant the subject.  One bright summer's afternoon, Prudence, in a fit of pique with the paparazzi, had replied, in answer to their question, they would never, ever know, from either herself or her press representative, whether or not she'd thoroughly enjoyed the strawberry ice-cream cornet she'd been pictured eating or preferred the vanilla flavour cone she'd eaten yesterday.  (They never did.) 

Finlay could freeze the most hard-boiled, garrulous journalist into silence with a look, and so legendary was his ability to keep secrets, that it's rumoured a group of Fleet Street reporters once held a competition to see who would be first to prize the information out of him on whether he preferred Arthur or Prudence as an employer - but after six months the contest had to be abandoned, still unresolved. 

He had been married once, to a long-time girlfriend from his schooldays, but Helen tired of the perfectionism that had so amused her during their courtship, of his lack of spontaneity (her husband bought her flowers and/or chocolates on birthdays, anniversaries and every Friday but never just because) and, most of all, she fretted over their plans to have children – how would he ever cope with sticky fingerprints on doors and demands for a bedtime story, with toys strewn all over the house and being woken by a baby's cries in the middle of the night?  And so they filed for an amicable divorce, and Helen stayed in Scotland while Finlay, after a series of interviews and finally making the short list of three, went to London to take up the proffered  position of publicity officer for Lord and Lady Maddocks.  He proved an ideal choice.

Being asked to appoint manor house staff for his employers' proposed three-month stay at Follyfoot Farm was certainly not in the usual course of his duties, but nothing fazed the stalwart ex-soldier, and he stepped up to the challenge admirably.  And although Mr Patterson, who carefully dotted i's and crossed t's, and put exactly one level teaspoonful of sugar in his coffee, not a granule more, not a granule less, strongly disapproved of Mrs Smith's unannounced arrival, a casual observer would have mistaken her for an honoured and long expected guest.  Ever the gentleman, he courteously took her hat, coat and bags, pulled out a chair, offered coffee, upon learning that she only ever drank tea hurried to the little shop next door, returned with a packet of tea and packet of biscuits, apologised for his absence, and had only very slightly raised one quizzical eyebrow when Bertha announced “Bags of experience!” in regard to the question as to why she considered herself suitable for the post of Housekeeper.

The quizzical eyebrow was directed at the two shopping bags resting at the lady's feet, one overflowing with balls of wool, different-sized knitting needles and half-finished knitting, the other overflowing with woollen garments.  (Bertha had knitted away the journey from Tockwith to Ashtree and had also brought with her some baby clothes for the church to distribute as they saw fit.)   He wondered for a moment whether she imagined a housekeeper in a manor house did nothing at all but knit all day.  And yet, to his great consternation, he also somehow knew he would employer her!

And this before he'd even heard of Bertha's Auntie Winnie, Housekeeper for Squire Peacock of Loppington Hall, or how as a youngster she had frequently helped her aunt with all kinds of work, or, in unnecessary addition, Bertha's rambling tales of her life, often filled with minor players, who, having nothing whatsoever to do with the story or Bertha's life in general, strolled briefly into both and then were gone forever, such as the telegram boy who had whistled Red Red Robin as he delivered a telegram from an old friend requesting Squire Peacock's presence at dinner, or the driver of the horse and cart, who remarked on the exceptionally dry weather as he passed by on the dusty road.  And yet Finlay knew from the very moment Mrs Smith looked in at the window that he was going to appoint her Housekeeper to Follyfoot!  He was not given to rash decisions and the irrationality of it all unnerved him.  It seemed that ever since hiring the vacant-until-the-21st-of-the-month solicitors' office, his brain had been whirling in a most uncharacteristic fashion.

Of course he could have held the interviews at The Grand, “Ashtree's finest and most popular hotel” and where he was currently staying (the proprietors conveniently glossed over the fact, B&B's aside, it was Ashtree's only hotel) but Finlay was a man who liked everything done properly and the relaxed atmosphere of a hotel was, in his opinion, and despite the manager's kind offer of a reception room for the purpose, most certainly not conducive to official business.  The fully furnished solicitors' office directly over the road, however, with its already connected telephone, electricity and water, was ideal.  Efficient as ever, he informed the Maddocks of the address and telephone number and, by prior arrangement, at precisely 10.30 am this morning the Labour Exchange were to telephone with the names and contact details of interested applicants.  And at precisely 10.30 the shrill ringing of the shiny black telephone pierced the silent air (unnaturally so since Bertha's departure of just five minutes ago).

At Ashtree Telephone Office, Audrey Brunskill, who had just put the caller through, glanced round to see if her supervisor, Miss Barrett, was watching, established she wasn't, popped a Polo mint into her mouth, and listened in.

“Finlay, my good fellow!”  Lord Maddocks' voice boomed down the earpiece.  “Pru has decided we shan't be going on hol to Follyfoot after all.  Off to San Tropae and then the Seychelles, old bean, so kindly cancel everything!”

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #145 on: January 04, 2014, 03:31:15 PM »
chapter 22/Finlay

Poor Mr Patterson blushed furiously as he confessed he had already engaged a housekeeper, and without even checking references.  And nobody was more astonished than the normally sedate Finlay when he found himself explaining Bertha's tragic background of miscarriages and widowhood, and the loneliness he strongly felt emanated from her, despite her nonchalant chattiness. 

“Ah.”  Snobbish, shallow and silly though Arthur and Prudence could often be, each was blessed with a generous heart that all too often ticked away hidden beneath keeping up appearances.  He saw at once, as Finlay did, that Bertha would be devastated if this opportunity to be needed were so quickly snatched away from her just as it was given, but he really didn't see how the problem could be resolved.  “Leave it with me, old chap!” he suddenly announced, as he espied their chauffeur Jimmy Turner headed off with bucket and sponge, obviously intending to give the Rolls a good clean-out. 

Jimmy, Lord Maddocks was well aware, could always be relied upon to give common sense advice.  And it seemed Jimmy did have the answer.  Why not employ Bertha as caretaker/housekeeper to the manor house, he suggested?  Follyfoot had been empty for several years and the only people it ever saw were from the maintenance company that the Maddocks had recently engaged to check on the upkeep of the property.  Nobody ever went to give it the homely touches, to open the windows and let in the air, to shake the dust sheets that covered the furniture, brush the floors or clean the windows, Jimmy added.  Perhaps Bertha could visit the manor house every month or so?  The maintenance workers would be there to unlock the heavy doors and open windows jammed from years, to lock it all up after Bertha had done whatever she thought needed doing. 

“Nobody ever forgets Follyfoot, sir.  Mayhap Follyfoot needs to know it isn't forgotten either?  Mayhap it needs to hear human voices, hear human footsteps again?”

“Indeed.  I daresay the old place will be startled to hear footsteps echoing down its draughty halls once more.”  Arthur chuckled, quite taken with, and amused by, the idea.  “Perhaps though, Jimmy, I could beg of you another favour?  Would you be so kind as to meet with Mrs Smith?  Ensure all is done properly, what?  Patterson is well overdue a holiday.  He was...ah...most unlike his usual self on the telephone.  I should imagine a three month break will do him the world of good while we are away, just as it would do you the world of good to spend three months back in Whistledown.”  There was a twinkle in Lord Maddocks' eyes.  He knew full well how much his old friend missed Follyfoot Farm.

Jimmy's spirits soared.  He had been so looking forward to seeing Follyfoot again and so saddened when Arthur and Prudence informed him of their change of plan.  The closest he had to family, since the tragic death of his own, was the friendship of Lord and Lady Maddocks and of his fellow workers, and when the Maddocks bought Saxe Coburg mansion and moved to London it seemed only natural to move with them.  But Follyfoot had always been home and already his heart twanged with nostalgic joy at the thought of seeing it again.

And just as he, Slugger Jones and Davey had long ago promised they would, if any of them ever returned, he would pour a bucket of water over the roots of the lightning tree and make a wish that one day Follyfoot Farm would grow anew.

A/N:  Well, that's the latest chapter, guys, hope you enjoyed it.  Feeling dreadful tho  >47< so going to curl up now with a good book for a couple of hours!  >11<

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #146 on: January 21, 2014, 11:19:43 PM »
***chapter 23***

***Reasons***

Finlay's hand shook as he placed the shiny black telephone receiver back in its cradle. He pressed his forefingers on his eyelids and took several deep breaths.  It had been a nerve-wracking moment, explaining to Lord Maddocks he had just engaged a housekeeper on extremely flimsy evidence of her housekeeping abilities, without checking a single reference, and then he'd even pleaded her cause!  He was fortunate in having such an understanding employer.  Anyone else would have fired him on the spot.  Arthur's rejoinder had been a mere “Ah!” 

A feeling, he recollected had been his glib reply, when Lord Maddocks asked how he could be so sure about Bertha's need to look after people, and did Finlay not think, being rather poverty-stricken, she might perhaps prefer substantial financial compensation for her wasted time?  Absolutely not, Finlay almost roared, this woman needed to be wanted and Follyfoot, he understood from an extensive study of its records, had a reputation for taking in waifs and strays, of providing a home for the unwanted.

Waifs and strays!   A home for the unwanted!  A feeling!  He groaned in embarrassment and buried his face in his hands.  Since when had Finlay Angus Patterson, he who denied all things that could not be scientifically proven and smugly rejected all that couldn't as stuff and nonsense, relied on a feeling?  Was he in the throes of some kind of nervous breakdown?  Had he been working too hard?  Had he done too much research into the history of Follyfoot Farm in preparation for the interviews?  Surely not, he had always undertaken any task required of him with the same thoroughness and it had never affected him before.  It was that...that picture to blame, he was sure of it. 

Finlay forced himself to look up at the small framed painting hung on the wall opposite the desk.  There was nothing remarkable about the picture – in fact, it wasn't very good at all and, in Mr Patterson's opinion, would have been far more at home in some private dwelling, wherein also resided a mediocre artist with unfulfilled dreams of a glittering career and hundreds of unsold paintings (for some obscure reason, perhaps he had seen a cartoon character as a child – for the tall, unemotional Scotsman had been a child once, you know - Finlay imagined him wearing beret, smock and sandals, holding a pallette, and splashing paint haphazardly around, all the while with a mad glint in his eye).  But, for some reason he couldn't fathom, perhaps its very awfulness, the picture pulled his gaze towards it again and again.  And yet, as we have noted, it was nothing remarkable. 

Two horses.  Black as night.    Peeking out of a stable.  Or perhaps staring over the half-gate of a large fence.   A tree.  Green and brown and fresh.  Lop-sided.  A rather gloomy sky, its colour, whether intentional or otherwise, a watery, wintry, wistful white-blue.  The sun (at least it was in the sky and so he presumed it to be the sun) a streaked, peculiar blob that seemed to have changed its  mind, several times, over whether it preferred to shine yellow or orange or red.  The frame alone was far more valuable than the childish sketch.   So why did it constantly attract his attention?  For a wild moment, Finlay even wondered...No!  The idea was absurd.   And, anyway, the tree was in full bloom.

*****

It was some years before lightning struck Follyfoot Farm so damningly.  Sally the cat was little more than a kitten, a second terrible war was a distant nightmare still to come, the day that took Magic so suddenly not yet dawned.  In those troubled times of the Great Depression, Follyfoot Farm remained an oasis of calm, a haven for troubled souls, a symbol of hope when all was lost.  The hungry came for food and the Follyfoot kitchens provided bread and soup.  The cold came for warmth and Follyfoot gave them coal and blankets.  The proud came for work and the Maddocks found for them what work they could.  Amid the misery of  poverty, despair and near starvation, Yorkshire folk could breathe more easily than most.

And Davey's latest harebrained scheme had been to take up painting.  Of course, he needed a studio.  And not just any old studio either. He had already found the very thing.  The small ground floor art room he had espied only yesterday, during an errand that for once took him inside the Follyfoot Manor House, was a throwback to a generation earlier, no longer used now except for extensive cleaning, dusting, polishing and vacuuming (as evidenced by the maid, Molly Shuttleworth, who, to judge by her struggle with the vacuum cleaner cord, was attempting to fight off a particularly aggressive hoover).  Never one to waste any time in pursuit of his own pleasure, the young stable-hand accordingly abandoned his morning's work (the pedantic among us might argue his morning work had never begun in the first place) produced the key he'd filched yesterday, unlocked the studio door, and spent a leisurely hour or so creating his masterpiece.  Beauty and Magic, the horses he was employed to care for, and did on occasion when so inclined, were his chosen subject, and finally Davey stood back to survey the result.  It happened to be that very moment when Lord Arthur Maddocks noticed light emitting from under the studio door and curiously pushed it open to find his youngest and laziest employee had the room ablaze with the recently-installed electric lighting to better appraise his work of art. 

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #147 on: January 21, 2014, 11:23:25 PM »
chapter 23/Reasons

A lesser man than Arthur would have called for a couple of men to hold the boy while he summoned the law and had the teenager arrested on charges of trespass, theft of canvas and paint and, taking into malicious account the haphazard splotches of paint splashed everywhere, wilful damage.  But both Arthur and Prudence had generous hearts, softened all the more by the mysterious magic of Follyfoot that touches the hearts of so many still, and, having reprimanded him often enough before, Lord Maddocks spoke gently in a kind of sad resignation.   “Davey.  I think we both know I have given you enough chances.  This latest escapade, I'm afraid, really is the last straw.  Please take your belongings, report to Mr Hargreaves for wages owed and leave the premises immediately.  As of now, you are dismissed.  You may take your painting with you.”

Davey shrugged.  “Ta,” he grinned, picking up the picture, not a hair on his head ruffled by his looming unemployment in a Depression.  None of the Burke family earned money respectfully.  Several were in prison and those that weren't threw all their energy into acquiring whatever they could illegally.  They had always done so even when work was plentiful.  The exception, fourteen-year-old Davey, had stumbled accidentally into employment at Follyfoot when Lord Maddocks, out riding one afternoon, espied him sitting half-asleep on a stile and thought it a sad indictment of society that one so young should be so bored with life so soon, that a job might wake him to the realisation he was destined for greater things.  Unfortunately, Davey, who, unbeknown to Arthur, had lately finished a stolen quarter bottle of whiskey, hence his lethargy, never did quite wake up.  In fact, he spent a great deal of his work time sleeping.

“But there's nowt to...”  The gangly youth glanced at his artwork, and then at several unused picture frames of varying sizes piled on a stand.

“Please do take one.”  With a heartfelt sigh, Lord Arthur sank into a chair, folded his arms and waited patiently while the lad leisurely perused shapes, patterns and sizes as though browsing at a market stall. 

“Well, see yer around then, mate,” the ex-employee said, at last satisfied with his choice.

“I wish you well, Davey,” his master returned, extending his hand, which Davey duly shook.  And thus they parted.  There was no ill will on either side.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Anyone who remembers Davey will recollect that he stayed on at Follyfoot after all.  Will explain in the next part of the chapter.


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #148 on: January 29, 2014, 10:15:04 PM »
chapter 23/Reasons

Finlay paced the office, hands clasped behind his back old soldier style, deep in thought.  He had scrutinised the picture, but could find neither title nor author.  And he hesitated to take it out of its picture frame to check.  It was not his property and he had a healthy respect for other people's property.  There was, and never would be, any way of knowing if it was of the two famous Follyfoot ghost horses. Besides, it was ridiculous to even contemplate the idea.  But then it had been a very strange morning.

More phone calls had been made.  The first had been to the Labour Exchange. They were most surprised to learn that staff were no longer required at Follyfoot Manor.  Mr Patterson bit back the comment he was most surprised that the mysterious listener-in at the telephone company – the regular clicks, barely noticed by most callers, but not by the ever alert Finlay, gave her away – hadn't already passed the information on.  He was also surprised at himself.  He, who valued his employers' confidentiality above all else, had taken no action whatsoever to thwart the eavesdropper.  Not even when it happened a second time, during Lord Maddocks' follow-up call. 

But Finlay had heard something else inbetween the clicks. 

Now and then the the listener choked back a tiny sob and the timing of those hidden sobs had nothing whatsoever to do with the conversation.  He was quite, quite sure small, salty, silver tears trickled down her cheeks.  The listener listened because she was deeply unhappy.  The listener listened because it made her feel she belonged for a little while though it left only a hollow, empty feeling behind. 

He paused in his pacing and sat down, partly because three very amused children were staring in at him through the slanted blinds, partly to mull over recent events.  Bertha Smith was to be housekeeper to an empty Manor House.  Jimmy Turner was to travel from London to Follyfoot Farm to sort it all out.  As Finlay was not required during their three-month absence, he was to take three months' paid holiday.  His niggling doubts that, in ensuring Mrs Smith had a job he might have put his own in jeopardy, briefly resurfaced.  But he quickly quashed the thought.  Arthur had sounded perfectly happy with the arrangements.  And quite how everything had worked out, he really couldn't fathom, but, having studied letters, invoices, books and newspapers, in fact anything at all he could lay his hands on relating to it in order to prepare for the interviews, Finlay had reached the conclusion that where Follyfoot Farm was concerned things had a habit of working out. 

He had read as much of its history as he was able to discover, feeling a mixture of joy and sadness, belief and scepticism, hope and despair.  So many emotions had swept over the normally staid, emotionless man since he began his research.  Like the ending of some cosy children's book, at Follyfoot justice triumphed, good defeated bad, people cared.  Sometimes a helping hand was all that was needed to touch the bitterest soul, sometimes a kind word enough to educate the ignorant.  But the world could be cold, dark and cruel.  They cried.  People and animals.  They bled.  They screamed.    They waited for someone, something, and someone, something never came.  But still they waited.  Alone in the darkness.  Eyes to melt the iciest heart yet some hearts stayed frozen.

Finlay had been shocked to read of the evil mankind was capable of, comforted to know places like Follyfoot existed. And perhaps that was what prompted him at that moment to behave so uncharacteristically. 

Afterwards, he was never sure why, possibly because it had been such a peculiar morning already that surely one more anomaly would make little difference, Finlay did something he had never done in his life before.  He determined to go out of his way to find out what was troubling a stranger and to try and help. 

Without further ado, before he had a chance to even think about it, he picked up the phone and introduced himself, asking for the name of, and to speak with, the operator who had connected his calls, as he had been “extremely impressed with her efficiency”. PR to Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence Maddocks never failed to open doors and roll out red carpets.  A beaming Miss Barrett, supervisor of Ashtree Telephone Co and rarely known to smile, basking in the reflected glory of one of her underlings, Miss Audrey Brunskill, granted his request immediately.

Never one to beat about the bush, as soon as he was transferred the blunt-speaking Scotsman came directly to the point.  “Good morning, Miss Brunskill.  I'm fully aware you were listening in on my telephone conversations just now.  What I don't know and wish to know is why you are so unhappy that you feel the need to.”

A stunned silence followed by a gulp of absolute terror greeted his succinct observation.  Audrey had been led to believe Finlay Patterson, PR to THE Lord and Lady Maddocks merely wished to say thank you.  “I'm so, so sorry! Please, please don't report me!  I can't afford to lose my job. I'm the only wage earn...”

“I have no intention of reporting you,” Finlay cut in, anxious to reassure.  “I just want you to promise you'll stop listening in on telephone calls.  And to know why you are so unhappy because I may be able to help.  You have a lovely voice,” he added encouragingly. 

Audrey hesitated.  Finlay Patterson could be playing a cruel trick, feigning concern only to gleefully deliver a malicious blow and inform her that her job was already lost.  But somehow she didn't think so.  His tone was extraordinarily kind, inviting confidences.  Besides if she was wrong about him and he was playing a cruel trick what did she have to lose?  She swallowed.  “I always wanted to sing...”

Four years ago, Joe Brunskill had deserted his disabled wife and six children whose ages ranged from one to fifteen.  Audrey, the eldest. was pulled out of school, the choir and the chance to audition for a scholarship to a music academy, and sent to earn a wage instead.  Which she had done ever since, dividing her time between operating the switchboard, cleaning two doctors' surgeries, delivering leaflets for an advertising agency, and taking care of five younger siblings.  There was no time for singing or boyfriends or socializing.  In fact, the only person she ever saw socially, and then occasionally, was her old school-friend Joan Baines, who had a job in television as a make-up girl and lived in London, popping back to Yorkshire every now and again to visit her older married sister, and full of exciting news about television shows and actors and actresses.  The gossip Audrey heard over the telephone was all she had to impress anyone.  Her life was a constant grind of work, work, work and would continue to be so, she sighed, for at least another two years, until the twins, next in age, were old enough to leave school.  The only songs she ever sang nowadays were nursery rhymes to the little ones and there was certainly no time or money for voice training or music lessons or musical instruments.  “But I have to be sensible,” she finished with a choked little sniffle.  “We can't all have our dreams come true.”


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #149 on: January 29, 2014, 10:19:47 PM »
chapter 23/Reasons

“Is that so now?”  Finlay almost laughed as his mind raced with solutions.  In memory of Davey Burke, a Follyfoot employee killed in the Second World War, the Maddocks annually awarded a very generous grant, to anyone born in Yorkshire and under the age of 25, to assist in fulfilling their potential.  It was Finlay's task to identify those most in need.  In addition, as PR to Lord and Lady Maddocks, he was on first name terms with some very important people.  Including a world famous star who, being from a poverty-stricken background himself, liked to give young, promising singers their first break.  Audrey's heart pounded with joy as she learnt not only was her financial situation about to be given an enormous boost, but she was also to be introduced to one of her all time favourite artistes. 

And this was how the now hugely popular songstress Angel Skillburn, as her publicity manager insisted her name be changed to, came to set foot on the first rung of her ladder to success.  But all this was far into in the future.

The winter sunlight was stealing in through the slats in the blinds and a flurry of snow, its moment of life brief, cast patterns on the wall opposite, causing Finlay to glance again at the painting, glad that he had, but wondering why, he had been so keen to give a helping hand to a stranger.  It was a curious notion, but he had the oddest feeling it had made him do it. Were they the tree before it was struck by the lightning bolt and the ghost horses that supposedly haunted Follyfoot Farm?  And, if so, how on earth did a picture of Follyfoot come to be here? 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Haha, explanation in next post!  >49<  Just need to do a little more work on the second and third scenes now and then this particular chapter is finished!  :)