Author Topic: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie  (Read 67358 times)

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #150 on: January 31, 2014, 10:52:47 PM »
Aww, nobody noticed my play on words in the last update - Audrey Brunskill became Angel Skillburn (thanks to her publicity manager ;)). And  I was quite proud of that too!  ;D


chapter 23/Reasons

Mr George Rumbold, of C P Rumbold and G C Rumbold, solicitors (although Charles Peter Rumbold had died almost six years previously, leaving his only son to manage the practice alone, the creaking sign above the door in High Street,  Ashtree still bore his illustrious name) laid the painting down on his desk.  “It's most generous of you, Davey, and I accept in payment.”

“I know picture ain't much good.  Just summat I did when I were a bairn.”  Davey, now a handsome, lanky, tousle-haired man of twenty-one or thereabouts, grinned sheepishly.  “The frame gaffer gimme's worth a few bob though. Should fetch a fair price but just in case I owe owt...” He reached into his work jacket and retrieved a brown envelope from which a ten shilling note was already peeking out as if eager to make its own way in the world.

Rumbold immediately raised a palm in protest.  “No, no, Davey!  This will suffice, I assure you. I most certainly do not require any of your hard-earned wages.”

He smiled kindly and hoped his visitor was convinced.  As he'd mentioned to his wife only last week, Jimmy Turner's influence had been astounding.  Jimmy had asked Lord Maddocks, who'd been on the verge of sacking the teenager, if he would keep him on at Follyfoot if he pledged to keep him under his wing and Lord Maddocks had reluctantly assented, suspecting it was a decision he would later come to deeply regret.  Yet in just a handful of years Davey had grown from an indolent youth, headed for a life of petty crime, drunkenness and perhaps even worse (his own father had been killed when he crashed the getaway car after an armed robbery) into an extremely likeable and responsible young man.  The only member of the notorious Burke family who could lay claim to any shred of honesty and decency.  Poor Davey.  Always trying to square things with those his relatives took advantage of. 

For he had taken it upon himself, in memory of his mother who'd long since died of a broken heart, to fix whatever he could.  None of his relatives had any such scruples however and Davey was a Neptune trying to stem a roaring tide.  This time one of his brothers had broken into the solicitor’s office and stolen the contents of the safe.  Some cash had fortunately been banked earlier in the week but a substantial amount remained, enough for Harry Burke to spend on women, booze, tobacco and a day at the races.   He had been caught later at the race-ground but by then not a farthing was left, and there was no chance of any moneys being recovered.   Until Davey stepped in once again, refusing to acknowledge once again that he was not accountable for, and never could be held accountable for, any of his family's crimes.  It meant a lot to him that his mother rested in peace, he explained, and he would brook no further argument. 

“I don't see 'ow's it can cover what our 'Arry took though.”  Davey shook his head in bafflement and his gangly limbs, still inclined to act of their own accord, knocked the desk as he brought his chair forward the better to re-read the newspaper article about the theft.  “I just don't understand why nuffin' me bruvvers and uncles nick seems to cost as much as it should.”

Mr Rumbold steadied the almost toppled pen tray just in time, pleased however to note the relief in his client's voice.  Davey and his fiancée Beth were saving furiously towards their imminent marriage and every penny was precious.  It had already been delayed twice due to his lack of funds.  The Maddocks had offered to pay for the forthcoming nuptials, but he wanted to provide for Beth himself and simply wouldn't hear of it. 

There was something else Davey didn't hear of but this time not through his own choice. 

Quite some time ago, a secret meeting of influential people from every village, from Follyfoot to Froglea (though Ashtree was represented too, it was, and had been for a long time now, far too grand, gargantuan and grown-up to call itself a village any more) was held at Whistedown's Three Bells, chaired by, to the great admiration of its usual patrons, Lord Arthur Maddocks.  One rather tipsy local, accidentally staggering into the private quarters just as the clandestine meeting was being wound up, and espying there the Lord of the Manor, gave Arthur a double thumbs-up and told him straight, or so some of those present believed, “Pruarty, me eye!”  (Several claimed he said another, more rude, part of the anatomy, while Arthur himself thought the man said “me 'eart”, and as he had absolutely no idea that his own and his wife's name had been combined to become a Yorkshire colloquialism for snobbish, he merely nodded and smiled, assuming the drunk must have patched things up after a quarrel with a sweetheart who had had the misfortune to be burdened with a most peculiar Christian name.)

Of course Mr Rumbold had been asked to attend the gathering, to ensure all was legal and to sort out any differences of opinion.  But there were no differences of opinion.  Everyone was in total agreement that they were not going to keep taking full compensation from Davey for something that wasn't his fault in the first place.  But as Davey was as determined to pay as they were not to have him pay, a compromise was reached.    They would take far less than was owed, while insisting the amount was correct, and encourage all the villagers to do the same.  Should anybody wish them to do so, the Maddocks would make up any loss.

“It's Follyfoot Farm, isn't it?”  Rumbold indicated the painting's scene of two black horses, a lop-sided tree, what might or might not have been stables, and what might or might not have been an airship, the sun, or an as yet undiscovered and extremely rare type of bird.

“Aye.  Beauty and Magic and the big tree afore lightnin' struck it down in Thirties Thunderstorms,” Davey confirmed.

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #151 on: January 31, 2014, 11:04:18 PM »
Chapter 23/Reasons

“The Thirties Thunderstorms.”  Rumbold spoke with nostalgic affection, as did all  Yorkshire folk when they referred to that storm-ravaged August.  It was barely two years since fierce thunderstorms had torn relentlessly over the county in almost continuous onslaught, and the decade was not yet drawn to its close, but the nickname was already firmly established in everyone's mind.  As the dark spectre of another War loomed ever closer, one and all yearned for when the land and skies had turned a multitude of colours, when shadows danced on walls and firesides seemed cosier than ever, when hearts were warmed and tears of joy fell at the sight of a loved one returning safe, when everyone had a tale to tell, of narrow escapes and rescues, of flooded cottages and burnt-out fields, of panics over missing sheep or cows, of milk that curdled and communities coming together to mend lightning-struck thatched roofs or bring meals and hot drinks to the volunteers who mended them.  Even though worry and danger had marked those tempest-tossed days and nights, not a single life had been lost, and it seemed a lighter, happier, even carefree time. 

“Is the Lightning Tree still being watered?”  Before falling victim to robbery himself,  the solicitor had dealt with Davey's cases by proxy, as it were, and despite their age difference and the fact that, as a child, Davey and his older brothers used to chase him down the street, throwing stones and calling him Baldy, they had become quite good friends. 

“Aye, that 'tis.”  Davey looked up from a word in the newspaper article which he'd been frowning over.  Having constantly skipped school, he'd never learned to read in childhood.  Jimmy had since taught him, but there were still some pronunciations and meanings which confounded him.  “Bucket every mornin' and  evenin' and whenever anyone feels in need.  We'll get b****r growin' again yet!”  He grinned as he folded his newspaper and put it under his arm.  “Well, George, me old mate, if you says it's enough for payment, it must be enough, but talkin' about bein' watered I owe you a pint next time you're down at t'pub.  'Ope picture frame fetches a good price.”

“I'm sure it will.”  Rumbold stood too as Davey prepared to leave. 

If he could have persuaded his friend to keep his belongings he would have done, but knowing Davey as he did, he knew that would be impossible.  George Rumbold would never find out how much the frame sold for however.  He intended to pay for the  damages out of his own cash.  The painting wasn't going anywhere but up on the walls of his office.  Because the painting wasn't just a painting. 

It was a symbol of hope. 

The Lightning Tree before tragedy struck.  The superstition that a bucket of water thrown over its roots could make dreams come true.  A simple belief that with a little nurturing, a little care and attention, anyone and anything could be changed for the better.   Without Jimmy, Davey would have grown wild.  Without Follyfoot, many a desperate soul would have been without anyone or anywhere to turn to.

War was coming.  Everybody spoke of it now.  Everybody sensed the heaviness that hung in the air like a shroud.   And, sure enough, War came.  It tore families apart, it devastated cities; it made no distinction in death:  it took young and old, rich and poor, adults and and children.  It took George Rumbold.  It took Davey. 

And years later, when hostilities ceased and the smoke of destruction finally cleared, hands reached across the great divide because all that was left was the hope that lives could be rebuilt and love grow anew.

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #152 on: February 12, 2014, 09:47:01 PM »
chapter 23/Reasons

The last phone call Finlay Patterson made that day was to his ex-wife.  As their their divorce had been extremely amicable (a meal out at their favourite restaurant, polite conversation, soft-playing background music, and, at the end of it all, a small kiss planted lightly on the other's cheek marked the momentous occasion of their decree nisi) they were very much in the habit of speaking with each other.  Although both had enjoyed the occasional dalliance there had been nothing serious, and neither even realised, though would-be lovers did, that they had fallen into a gentle friendship too exclusive to be interrupted by anyone else. 

Finlay always hated to worry Helen and he took several deep breaths before dialling the operator again.  (This time, fortunately, it was not Audrey who answered; she being all aflutter - and apparently sworn to secrecy as to the reason why - an irritated and rather jealous Miss Barrett, who knew it had something to do with Finlay Patterson, but fearing a fate akin to being incarcerated in the Tower of London if she dared question an agent of THE Lord and Lady Maddocks, had deemed it wiser to send her home.) 

The overpowering stench of paste, plaster and paint glided gleefully into the Scotsman's nostrils and throat as he inhaled.  The solicitor's office was empty that week, to give the renovation of the small back kitchen area time to settle, which was the reason he'd been able to rent the premises so cheaply. Cheap! Ha!  Finlay gave a wry smile.  What did it matter that he'd negotiated bargain basement prices?  If working with the vastly wealthy Maddocks, who, in spite of their arrogance and snobbery, were generous to a fault with their money, had taught him anything, it was that it wasn't money that did most good.  No, it was the kindness behind it.  Strangely, before Follyfoot, neither Arthur nor Prudence, while certainly not un-kind, had ever been noted for their benevolence.  Yet, during the years they'd resided at the Manor House, the newspapers had frequently carried snippets of how they'd helped someone out with rent arrears or paid for an employee to fly to Canada to see his first grandchild or arranged for a housebound villager to have regular meals brought to his home.  It was as though Follyfoot gave them a greater empathy with others, and more than once Jimmy Turner had remarked sadly to Finlay that since their return to London they occasionally reverted to being the shallow people they had once been.  Had Follyfoot cast a spell over Finlay too?   From its very earliest days, when its business was buying, selling and stabling horses, it gained a reputation for a willingness to help others and there were whispers even then that something magical touched the Farm at the bottom of Whistledown Hill. 

So many stories abounded about its power to change lives.   

There was, in 1695, the bad-tempered baron, who stomped into the stables with four or five equally rich and equally drunk friends, all determined to race each other to win a wager, demanding the return of his horse, refusing to believe Bessie was lame and must rest, roaring for a terrified servant to saddle her up at once.  The man, unhappy with the order, hesitated; the baron impatiently cut him with his whip and saddled Bessie himself.  Arrogantly ignoring the protests of the Follyfoot stableboy, off they rode over the rough Yorkshire terrain, Baron Thomas roaring with laughter and in the thick of the furious race, until one of his drunken companions, in acknowledgement of the success of their jape, punched him heartily on his shoulder as he passed.  But the baron, being waited on since childhood, had never saddled a horse in his life before and had made a pretty poor job of it. Nor had he, being in such haste, troubled to put his feet securely in the stirrups, and the blow was enough to topple him from his mare. He fell heavily, screaming in agony as searing pain tore through his knees, expecting his friends to come to his aid.  But a wager was a wager:  his companions only jeered and pounded furiously on.  It was poor Bessie who limped back, raising the alarm, the Follyfoot people who found him.  It was a year before Baron Thomas could walk again, and realising  how little his friends cared and the great debt he owed Bessie, he was a wiser, kinder and more humble man at the end of it.

There were the three terrified orphans, sisters, no more than babes, discovered hiding in the Follyfoot stables, each clutching a morsel of bread and an apple, meant to sustain them on their long journey to America, where they planned to run away to and avoid being separated.  Call it coincidence – some did, though others said with a smile, “Ah!  'Tis Follyfoot!”  - but it so happened that a wealthy gentleman, his wife and their brood of three daughters on the brink of womanhood and marriage, had come that very day to purchase horses, and the family fell in love at once with little Ann, Jane and Mary, and brought them up as their own.

There was the hermit, living off the land, venturing only as far as the river under cloak of night to draw water and catch fish in the freshwater stream, an occasional, fleeting glimpse to night fishermen, who spoke of a skinny, ragged, filthy man, with long, tangled grey hair and beard, with wild, staring eyes and nails long as claws.  Many believed Black Jack, so named for his filthy appearance, to be a myth on a par with goblins or ghosts or Padfoot, and laughed away the tales.  Until one morning, for reasons no one could ever fathom, Solo, the Follyfoot horse, insisted on a change of route during his daily exercise, stubbornly refusing to move until they turned left and deep, deep, deeper than anyone had ever explored before, further and further into the dark woods.  Inside a tiny ramshackle den dug into the ground and built of wood, stones and leaves, lay the hermit, emaciated, barely alive, for winter had been cruel that year, and he too weak to gather food.   Nobody ever did find out who simple-minded Black Jack was, where he had come from or how long he had lived alone in the woods, but Follyfoot nursed him back to health and gave him a home.  But Jack could never settle indoors and, despite his great age, often preferred to sleep under the stars or to roam alone for hours or to ignore the food provided by the farm folk, to forage the countryside in search of his own.  At last Follyfoot let him make his home in an unused stable, from which he could wander at will, safe in the knowledge he would always return, and quite sure that were anything amiss the horses, as Solo had done, would alert them, for Jack had an affinity with animals that was almost mystical.  And so Black Jack spent his last few years peacefully and happily at Follyfoot, a celebrated figure sought out by all, and laid to rest, with hundreds of mourners following his horse-drawn coffin, at Whisteldown Cemetery.


And then of course there'd been the...

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #153 on: February 12, 2014, 09:58:14 PM »
chapter 23/Reasons

Finlay abruptly drew a hand across his teary eyes and pulled himself together with a supreme effort.  Whatever was he thinking?   It was a ridiculous idea, and an indication of his fragile state of mind, to think a picture, or a Farm, for that matter, could influence events, and Helen would no doubt tell him so.  Overwork, that's all it was.  He should never have become so involved in the history of Follyfoot.

“Darling, I've done something incredibly stupid in my line of work,” he began, after the call was connected and they'd exchanged their usual enquiries about each other's health, with Finlay, worried that the weather forecast  for Scotland predicted heavy snow and bitterly cold winds, and advising his ex-wife to be sure to wrap up very warm, and Helen, convinced she could hear the start of a cold in Finlay's voice, advising him to drink lots of hot lemon and chicken broth.   

“Fortunately, Lord Maddocks has chosen to overlook the matter this time,” he continued.  “But his Lordship has also recommended that I immediately take a three month paid break.”

Helen's heart skipped a beat.  She was still very, very fond of Finlay, as he was of she, both in an oh-if-only-it-could-have-worked-out kind of way.  She knew, being the perfectionist he was, he would be devastated to have made a mistake.  And Helen would be devastated simply because Finlay was.  Concern for each other still, long after their separation, was a pattern that the couple barely noticed.  Finlay hadn't slept a wink the night he learnt Helen's kitchen boiler had broken down and the plumber couldn't come out until next morning. Helen had been on tenterhooks the time Finlay was tasked with meeting no fewer than four members of the Royal household and ensuring their safe journey to Saxe Coburg Mansion, where the Maddocks resided.

“Och, Finnie! Don't be so hard on yourself now!”  After listening to how he'd hired Bertha Smith because he felt sorry for her, how he'd rewarded someone else for eavesdropping, and then tried to blame a Farm and a painting on the wall for his temporary insanity (here, Finlay, impatient with himself and his perceived failings, spoke with such undue harshness that any other recipient of the dressing down would have trembled in terror) Helen was torn between a desire to laugh and a desire to cry, frustrated at her ex-husband's strait-laced, if characteristic, view of events.  The desire to cry won.  A tear pooled in each eye.  A lump settled in her throat.  An abundance of love overflowed from her heart.  “It's wonderful, what you've done!”

“Wonderful?”  Finlay repeated in astonishment.  “Helen, are you...?”  He asked in slow suspicion.

“And so what if I am, Finlay Angus Patterson?”  Helen fired back in affectionate amusement, as the real reason for the thick hoarseness in his normally clipped tones dawned on her.  “You were too.  And where's the shame in emotion?  You cared about those people, Finnie.  You really, truly cared.  And I know...I always knew under that cold, logical exterior lurks a...a big old softie.”

“Helen...why am I greeting like a wee bairn?”  Finnie asked hopelessly.

But Helen never did explain.  “I love you, Finnie Patterson,” she gulped, and of course there was only one answer Finlay could say to this in return because he never could lie.

Finlay spent his three month break in Scotland.  With Helen.  They later remarried and became parents to five children.  Finlay was an absolutely doting Dad, a pushover where his kids and and later grandkids were concerned.  He often enigmatically remarked, as he treated a daughter to another holiday, or agreed a son could borrow the car for a week to impress a girlfriend, or allowed a grandchild to coax three extra bedtime stories out of him, it was all the fault of a painting.

The solicitors still stands in Ashtree's High Street, occupied now by a great-great-niece of George Rumbold and her partner in life as well as in work.  The black Bakelite telephone, the slanted blinds, the ledgers, the clogging smell of gas and the gas fire, the old hob and whistling kettle, the curious  alphabetical address index made of cardboard...all these have long gone and the office has a bright, modern feel, with cosy central heating, comfortable reception area, gently humming PCs,  drinking fountain, bubbling coffee percolater and tip-tapping of keyboards.  Colette decided on a complete overhaul of the old-fashioned building when she took over the business and she stood in the centre of the office, gazing around in approval the day it was finished.  But one thing, she felt, just had to stay the same.  And so, after the crumbling wall had been plastered, painted and pampered, a certain item was returned to where it had always been. 

The painting of Follyfoot Farm, the story handed down through generations of the Rumbold family that, like Follyfoot itself, it signified hope and new beginnings, remains in its original place to this day.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  That will be the last update for a while as I need to catch up with some non-Follyfoot writing.  >11<

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #154 on: April 01, 2014, 09:54:58 PM »
Apologies for the delay if you're still following, I'm also working on two other non-Follyfoot stories.  ::)

As I'm gradually drawing this story to a close, I need to tie up some loose ends.  Just to refresh your memory, this piece began in 1971, with Tommy Jackson wondering why Bertha Smith has come to Whistledown Cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of the mysterious Little Cowboy Jimmy.  A few years before Dora was born, Bertha was hired as housekeeper by Finlay Patterson (sorry, I just don't remember Mrs Porter, which is why I ended up inventing yet another original character!) and Arthur and Prudence Maddocks ask him to go to Yorkshire to arrange everything.

(Confused?  You won't be!  Haha, who remembers Jessica Tate and Soap?!!!  ;D  ;D  ;D)


***chapter 24***

***Home Again***

Jimmy Turner paused as he reached the hill at the top of Whistledown Lane and caught his first glimpse of Follyfoot Farm for many a year.  His heartbeat quickened with love for the old, familiar place and a tear or two for yesterday trickled down his weatherbeaten cheeks.  The grey buildings and its surrounding fields were empty and abandoned now, locked up, shuttered, silent, still.  The maintenance workers came once a month and did whatever needed doing before leaving it lonely once more.  And how lonely Follyfoot looked at that moment, with its roofs and trees dripping silver raindrops and its wild wind whistling and wailing; with its mud and stones and puddles; with its keen air that shivered and smelt of freshness and tasted of cold; with a thunderous sky for its blanket and grey clouds for its pillows. 

But to Jimmy, as to anybody who ever knew Follyfoot, it would always be home.

It was Follyfoot he dreamed about, its voices he heard echoing through his memories, its people he saw when he closed his eyes and recalled the past.   He had brought his two children here when they were small; shared work and dramas and laughter here with the other Follyfoot staff; left here each evening to find his wife Rose waiting with tender kiss and glowing fire and hearty supper; promised to bring his little granddaughter Susie here one day.  But the promise could never be kept.  His family, like several of his friends, were all dead now.  And often he would sigh a nostalgic sigh for a life lived long ago, for the people he knew, and for Beauty and Magic, the two noble black horses he had been hired to to care for as head groom, his reputation as Little Cowboy Jimmy impressing the Maddocks enough to employ him on the spot.  The early Follyfoot years had been blissfully happy despite Keeper of Keys aka Mr Hargreaves chivvying and bullying the younger staff and generally being downright unpleasant to all.  Nobody could have foreseen then the outbreak of a second world war, that the oldest, sturdiest tree on Follyfoot would be struck down by lightning in a moment, that Magic would die in a terrible road accident and Beauty die of a broken heart. 

The same two horses that were now said to haunt Follyfoot. 

He looked towards the stables and at the nearby Lightning Tree, long stripped of its leaves and blossoms and beauty, and jumped when out of the corner of his vision he thought he saw a shadow.  But it was gone quickly as it came.  Probably no more than the rain and wind conspiring to play tricks on his eyes.  He smiled at his own foolishness, in even considering the possibility of ghosts, as he began to make his way down Whistledown Hill.  Lord and Lady Maddocks no doubt imagined him to be safely ensconced in his hotel room by now, and would be horrified if they knew, instead of waiting for a fine day to visit, he was drenched through and wandering through the muddy Yorkshire countryside in pouring rain.  But they were old friends, he and Follyfoot Farm, and owned the soul of each other.

And so Jimmy had alighted from the train at Ashtree station, and as he had faithfully promised Lord  Arthur and Lady Prudence he would, immediately hailed a taxi and checked himself and his luggage into his hotel, albeit feeling as though he really was taking liberties with his position as their chauffeur and trusted friend.  He had tried to tell them a rented room in a lodging house, with perhaps a couple of cooking rings or even a shared kitchen, would be quite sufficient for his needs during his three-month stay in Yorkshire to ensure the smooth settling-in, as it were, of a certain Mrs Smith, with whom he was to meet tomorrow, as live-out housekeeper to the unoccupied Follyfoot manor house.  They simply would not entertain the idea, however, and insisted on paying for him to stay at The Grand, where he would daily enjoy a cooked breakfast and evening meal, with any additional expenses to be added to their account, in a large en-suite room with a magnificent view of the rolling green hills of Yorkshire.  It was in vain Jimmy protested, as he was only there on business, they really didn't need to incur the extra astronomical cost (he had looked through the brochure) of a room with a view:  only the very best, they said, would do. (In fact, as Jimmy later discovered while flicking through the Gideon Bible, someone had industriously scrawled pencilled observations in the Good Book, where they agreed or disagreed with its contents, it would seem the room actually had several views.)   

But he had stayed at the hotel only long enough to check in, and declining the offer of a light snack, caught a tram from the bustling Ashtree tram station to Tockwith.  The tram from Tockwith to Follyfoot ran only twice a week, but he remembered well, having walked it many times, the short-cut along the bridle path and across Robinson's Farm that turned a ten-mile journey into four.  And now he'd reached his destination at last. 

It had been worth squelching through thick mud, being buffeted by the strong wind and drenched by driving rain.  He ran his finger affectionately along the mis-spelt name of “Booty” and the arrow carved into the Lightning Tree's trunk, casting his mind back to when it was first cut.  It had been the same day they buried Beauty, in an unmarked grave in an unused field, as far away from Follyfoot as possible, as per Prudence's instructions that no trace should be left of “the beast”, for, although it was all the fault of  a staggering drunk a motor car swerved to avoid, she never forgave Magic or Beauty, or indeed any horse, for the accident that caused her to be thrown and resulted in her permanently crooked nose.  Jimmy had been required to chauffeur the Maddocks to an urgent meeting of Parliament and Davey had taken Jimmy's two children, Peggy and Jonjo, heartbroken over Beauty's death, back to Follyfoot and helped them make the carving so that “the angels could find where Beauty rested.”

The rusty old bucket still stood nearby, filled with rainwater.  Voices and images played out in his mind.  Davey, Slugger, himself the night they parted.

Davey grinned sheepishly.  “Well, boys, yer might say I'm not the full shillin' and I wouldn't blame  yer if yer did, but every mornin' I've been takin' a bucket o' water to chuck over its roots.  See, if dreams were to come true now...well, dreams would come true.”  He looked down at the pool of moonlight and his voice, a little choked, trailed away.

“Follyfoot Farm WILL be Follyfoot Farm again one day,” Jimmy promised stoutly.  “We can only be patient and the coming War is done with quickly.  There's nowt much we can do till then.”

“B****r nowt we can do, lads!”  Slugger declared heatedly.  “Let's make a solemn promise 'ere and now.  Each of us, whenever we can, we'll pour a bucket of water over our lightnin' tree till Follyfoot grows again!”




/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #155 on: April 01, 2014, 10:08:19 PM »
/chapter 24/Home Again

Jimmy had just picked up the bucket, to throw the black rainwater over the roots of the old tree, when a sudden noise made him start and he dropped it with a clang, managing to water not only the roots but his own already sodden footwear in the process.  Thankful he'd at least had presence of mind enough to take his walking boots and waterproof clothes from his case before his trip to the Farm, he turned to see the source of the noise and laughed in recognition.  It was many years since he'd last seen her, but the twinkling blue eyes and beautiful smile were unmistakeable.

“Well, blow me down!”   (The wind was certainly trying its best.)  “Bertha Smith!”

“Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!”  the middle-aged woman, doubtless the shadow he'd espied earlier, rejoined, equally as shocked and delighted as her companion.  “Little Cowboy Jimmy!”  Bertha's eyesight was not as sharp as it used to be, and she could never lay claim to being one of those fortunate people who  never forget a face, but she rarely forgot a voice.  Added to this, he was in the very place with which she always associated him.

Long, long ago, they had been mere nodding acquaintances, too busy with their own lives and work to exchange more than a few words, but the villages were small, and gossip travelled fast.  Jimmy vaguely knew that Bertha lived in Tockwith, worked for Squire Peacock at Loppington Hall, did a lot of knitting, and was married to Freddie Smith; Bertha vaguely knew that Jimmy lived in Whistledown, worked at Follyfoot Farm, first as head groom, later as chauffeur, and was married with two children.  And of course, like most villagers, she had heard the famous Yorkshire tale, of how his nickname had been acquired, when as a boy he'd jumped on the back of a horse, that had been terrified by a cruelly thrown firework and was about to bolt through a crowded market, and calmed her down.

They hugged warmly and then decided, even though there was nobody but Follyfoot to witness it, that perhaps it was not the done thing, and broke shyly away, Jimmy apparently being overcome by a sudden coughing fit, while Bertha discovered she needed to adjust her sou'wester more firmly on her head although it seemed perfectly alright to begin with.  To their further embarrassment, they each took a breath and spoke at exactly the same time.

“I'm here to meet Follyfoot's new housekeeper...”

“I'm going to be Follyfoot's new housekeeper...”

But a clap of thunder roaring directly overhead and a fork of lightning flashing furiously through the temperamental sky prematurely cut short their conversation, and they were forced to take shelter in the Follyfoot stable block, in the very stables that were once home to Beauty and Magic. 

“Lord Arthur asked me to meet a Mrs Smith to explain her duties as Housekeeper of the empty Manor House.  Never dreamt it would be someone I knew!”  Jimmy told Bertha, shaking his head in happy disbelief, after they had brushed as much rain as they could from themselves.  The familiar smell of hay, wood and horse, and the familiar sight of  the Lightning Tree, unbowed yet in the storm's rage, made him feel as though he'd never been away. Being back at Follyfoot was exhilarating.  They both felt it.  Their eyes were bright, their faces ruddy, their hair tousled, and the wind, fiercer than ever now, tore wildly through the abandoned Farm, but Jimmy and Bertha were hardy Yorkshire folk, used to being outdoors, and the inclement weather did not faze them in the slightest. 

“Me neither,” Bertha admitted.  “Mr Patterson's letter said nowt about owt really, only that he had to leave for Scotland and a meeting had been arranged with a Mr Turner at The Grand tomorrow.  Common enough name, like mine, and seeing as nobody heard owt about you after the War...”  She bit her lip hastily.

“Nay, lass, still alive and kicking, as thee can see!”  Jimmy chuckled good-humouredly, dropping the London accent he had unwittingly adopted over the years, and lapsing easily into his Yorkshire brogue now he was back on the Yorkshire soil he loved so well.  His War work in London, ferrying top-secret documents on behalf of the Maddocks, had been so high-risk that the Government of the day deemed it wise for him to drop all contacts lest they became enemy targets.  It was small wonder Bertha thought the worst.

Relaxing in each other's company, they talked and talked.  Bertha had been so excited about being hired as housekeeper that, like Jimmy, she hadn't been able to wait until a warm, dry day to visit Follyfoot Farm.  There was something about the way it caught hold of your heart and kept it, she said, and Jimmy nodded agreement and understood as only those who know Follyfoot can.

It was refreshing to catch up on all the news of the Follyfooters, who had been scattered when the Farm closed down due to the War, and often Jimmy laughed or shed a tear at Bertha's stories.  Sweet old Mrs Crane, Follyfoot's cook, who'd had the misfortune to be widowed twice almost before the ink had gone dry on the marriage certificate, had bumped into an old classmate from her earliest schooldays, and before anyone could say wedding bells, there she was, all happily married and living in Cornwall, grandmother by proxy to ten grandchildren.  To everyone's astonishment, Keeper of Keys had found himself a wife, poor, timid fool, as everybody thought at first.  Oh, but Deirdre Winthrop turned out to be no fool nor shrinking violet!  Like all bullies, Hargreaves was a coward when he was on the receiving end, and it seemed he was very much henpecked nowadays.  The pair had settled in Leeds, where they were often to be seen out shopping, and to the great amusement of the shopkeepers Hargreaves was but a shadow of his former self with his meek “yes, dear” and “no, dear”.  Funny little Teresa Holmshaw, the maid-of-all-work with lofty ambitions to be Prudence's lady's maid, had married, into the medical profession, and was now a mother of six; Eddie Prendergast, the former chauffeur, died peacefully in his sleep at his sister's home in Michigan; Buckley, the former head groom, died a hero in the War, rescuing two small German children and a dog from a bombed-out building only to have the rubble come tumbling down on himself; wouldn't-say-boo-to-a-goose Enid Motttram had only gone and got herself a job at Buckingham Palace, if you please; and wasn't it a fine how-do-ye-do when Billy and Nellie Fisher went and won themselves a fair sum on the football pools...

It was late afternoon by the time the storm cleared enough for Jimmy and Bertha to chance leaving their shelter, but they had done so much talking that they were very firm friends at the end of it...


 

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #156 on: April 30, 2014, 05:09:20 PM »
***chapter 25***

***Cupid's Bow***

Now I know all the romantics among you will wish me to say there was much, much more than a spark of friendship between Jimmy Turner and Bertha Smith, but how can I tell you what wasn't so?  Freddie had been Bertha’s great love and Rose had been Jimmy’s great love and though what could be more heartwarming than a widow and widower finding love in the twilight of their years, as Elsie Crane and Sam Berry had done, it simply never happened.  But in those three months a firm friendship was sewn to blossom forever.  

Despite the Maddocks' good intentions in paying for him to stay there, Jimmy felt  like a fish out of water in The Grand.  In his opinion the guests had more bloody brass than sense, while the management and front-of-house staff must have been specially selected for their ability to upturn their noses and sniff derisively at the likes of dishwashers and chambermaids, and they strongly disapproved of Jimmy, a guest at their exclusive, hugely expensive hotel, chatting to these lower beings as though they were old mates.   And everyone seemed to think it a sign of good breeding to have monogrammed bath towels of Egypitan cotton and meals with fancy names that never filled you like good old bangers and mash did, Jimmy sighed wearily.  Blowed if he wouldn't have quite happily “hit the sack for a good night's kip” at Tockwith's cheap, crumbling, rough-and ready B&B, even with its infamous dragon of a landlady, who had been known to drench a guest who overstayed his welcome with a wake-up call of a bucket of ice cold water.  Even the Lightning Tree would have quaked in her presence, he added with a wry smile.

Bertha at once invited him for a hearty home-cooked meal and soon it became a regular event.   After a busy day of Mrs Smith meeting with the maintenance people, or learning about book-keeping, or consulting various experts in their field about the likes of soft furnishing repairs,  dry-cleaning curtains and French polishing, the pair would set off for Bertha's home in Tockwith.  If they were travelling from the Follyfoot manor house, they would take the short cut across Robinson's Farm and the bridle path, but if their business had taken them further afield, perhaps into the bustling town of Ashworth, as if often did,  they would catch the 22B tram from the High Street to Tockwith and then – as it was yet two or three years before buses replaced trams and the Tockwith-Follyfoot bus route established – face a brisk fifteen-minute walk to the cottage.  (Hush, Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence did advise him to always travel in style by cab and to chalk up the expense to their account, but Jimmy thought taxis a shocking waste of money, and the meandering 22B was such a scenic journey and Bertha liked to have time to knit and Jimmy time to chat with the other passengers, some of whom he knew in days gone by – but, like the meandering 22B, I digress...)

At at around half past four every afternoon the pair were a familiar sight waiting in the tram queue outside Tockwith Library, Bertha with her knitting bag – which accompanied her everywhere, even on official business, in case the opportunity ever arose to knit one, purl one  - and Jimmy with the groceries they'd bought in for “tea”. 

Of course, the village folk, like people everywhere, were keen to help love along and dropped many a hint about how, seeing as they got on so well together and were like an old married couple already, they really ought to tie the knot, but the hints sailed by unheeded.  The villagers had plenty of experience in matters of the heart, however, and watched to see if Jimmy stole a kiss, or if Bertha picked a strand of cotton from Jimmy’s shoulder, or if they held hands out walking, but, no, there was nothing of the sort, the watchers would report in great disappointment to friends, relatives and fellow gossips who shared the same devoted interest. 

Nobody looked harder for some sign of Cupid drawing his bow than Connie Bell, who ran Whistledown's popular Toasted Teacakes Tea Rooms, where the couple met every morning save Sunday (the tea rooms being closed Sundays, they met instead at Whistledown Church, and it was quite remarkable then how many of the congregation lost their place in hymn books or responded late to a prayer or were so busy looking somewhere else when the collection plate was being taken round that half-crowns were mistakenly donated in place of pennies, leaving the unhappy giver short of cash all week and far too embarrassed to ask could Jesus kindly give it back ).  Indeed, Connie was heard to sigh and mutter to herself that they might as well be brother and sister but who she was talking about nobody ever knew, as the tea room was just then, like the china teacups, filled to the brim, and there were several people, including Bertha and Jimmy, drinking tea and enjoying dainty cakes and sandwiches served on a silver platter.   

Oh, how Connie tried, ensuring the sugar bowl was at the very end of the table so that their fingers couldn't help but brush when they passed the sugar lumps; suddenly deciding to change the table centrepiece from a vase of mixed flowers like everybody else's to a vase containing a single red rose and winking meaningfully at Jimmy (who only smiled in bafflement and scratched his head); remarking on what a beautiful day it was for couples, whatever their age, to take a romantic stroll to the ancient well, where over the centuries many a lad and lass, whatever their age, she hinted more emphatically, had pleged to marry.  But it was all to no avail. 

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #157 on: April 30, 2014, 05:23:50 PM »
Chapter 25/Cupid's Bow

And, reader, my heart breaks with yours that they never fell in love, but I'm afraid it was the way it was though they complemented each other perfectly in the quaint customs of the time.  As soon as they arrived at the cottage, Mrs Smith would tie on her apron and bustle about washing and chopping vegetables or basting the meat or folding laundry while Mr Turner – it was two weeks before they addressed each other by their Christian names – would chop wood for the fire or peel potatoes or fix something, romance aside, that badly needed fixing. 

Bertha enjoyed having someone to look after, Jimmy enjoyed making himself useful, and Sooty Mr Cat adored their guest and loved nothing more than to sit in Jimmy's lap purring loudly.  And over shepherd's pie or beef stew or roast chicken and dumplings, they shared many confidences, Bertha telling Jimmy all about her miscarriages and her knitting and the special sky blue tin of memories for the little ones who couldn't stay; Jimmy telling Bertha all about how he lost those he loved most and about his top secret work during the War and life at Follyfoot and Saxe Coburg Mansion.  But at nine o'clock each evening he would catch the last tram back to Ashtree.  There was however one day their very first week...

They had finished their meal and now sat at either side of the fireplace, relaxing for a short while before it was time for Jimmy to leave.  Bertha's knitting needles were clacking rhythmically and Sooty Mr Cat was purring like a well-oiled engine as he sat in Jimmy's lap, being tickled under the chin, when a gentle pitter-patter began rattling against the window pane.  Sooty, who heartily disliked rain and strongly objected to it being allowed to fall, leapt down from Jimmy's lap, stretched in disdain at the wet weather and curled up on the hearth rug to bask in heat. 

The music of the rain played yet faster; the darkness it carried dancing cosy firelight shadows on the cottage walls.  Bertha set down her knitting to take a look, Jimmy dusted the knees of his trousers and joined her at the window.  Together they gazed out on the canvas of a magical new world.  Under large, moody clouds of grey and black, nature had been painted anew.  Grass and trees were dark, mystical greens and browns;  pink and white blossoms had been gently pushed free to carpet the earth; flowers of every colour and size shot up their heads to drink their fill of sparkling droplets of silver water; branches stretched towards eternity as all thirst was quenched. 

The downpour was over as suddenly as it came.   Without thinking, Bertha pushed open the window and inhaled deeply, heedless of the shower of glittering raindrops that immediately scattered down off the glass and soaked her feet.
 
“It's something I always do,” she confessed, suddenly remembering she wasn't alone and smiling a little sheepishly.  “I love the fresh smell of the soil after it's been raining.”

“Me too, lass.” Jimmy said quietly, returning the smile.  “Me too.”

They caught each other's eyes then.  So much in common and yet so far apart.  Hearts beating fast, but Jimmy's beat even faster for Rose and Bertha's even faster for Freddie.  And, knowing this and that it would never be, they turned back to the rain-dreched canvas, the moment gone forever. 


*****

1971

“We stayed in touch until Jimmy's death.  We hadn't seen each other for years, neither of us could get out and about as much as we used to, but it still came as a terrible shock.”  Bertha sighed at the flowers she had placed on her old friend's grave.  “I'd just penned a long, funny poem about Little Cowboy Jimmy.  There it was, in the envelope under the clock, all ready to be posted and give the b****r a right good laugh, when the man sent by the Maddocks knocked on the door to tell me.  The poem's in my Memory Box now.  With all the others.”

Tommy Jackson shuffled uncomfortably.  A mixture of boredom and curiosity had led him from Whistledown Cemetery's office to sit beside Follyfoot's housekeeper on the memorial bench opposite the grave and to enquire about its baffling epitaph to Little Cowboy Jimmy.  For Bertha still was housekeeper to the Follyfoot manor house.  When Geoffrey Maddocks took over the running of Follyfoot Farm he was too kind-hearted to request the octogenarian retire, she enjoyed her job so much, although nowadays she was more a liability, with her enthusiasm for cleaning works of art with washing-up liquid and solid oak furniture with bleach.  But despite her increasing vagueness, Bertha had never lost her ability to talk and talk and talk, as Tommy discovered.  He hadn't expected to be told quite so much.

“I've got a poem for my girlfriend,” was all he could think of to say as Bertha finally paused for breath.  His bosses, Mr Semple and Mr Fergus, had been extremely impressed that morning to see their junior clerk, for the first time ever, with the invoice ledger open, writing industriously. They wouldn't be quite so impressed, he knew, when they realised he'd been using it to lean on to write his rambling love poem, and not a single invoice had been recorded in the ledger.

“That's so romantic, dear.”  Bertha patted his arm.  “Your young lady will be thrilled.”

“No.  No, she won't.”  He shook his head miserably.  “Sophie isn't speaking to me.  She heard I'd said another girl was beautiful, you see.  I wrote her a poem to tell her I'm sorry, but she'll probably never agree to read it.”

“Try,” Bertha advised.  “At Follyfoot we have a saying.  Everyone deserves a second chance.  Though Ron Stryker prefers to say “every hot chick deserves a second glance”, cheeky young monkey, and when...”

As Bertha began to ramble once more, the lovelorn Romeo frowned, pondering on ways he might convince his stubborn Juliet of his undying love.  He had just dismissed the wild idea of standing below her bedroom window to recite his literary masterpiece (we will not disillusion Tommy) when the very girl he'd said was beautiful walked into Whistledown Cemetery carrying an even bigger bouquet of flowers than Mrs Smith's.  Dainty tears were trickling down her cheeks and she was wiping them prettily away with her small white hand when she espied Bertha.  Tommy Jackson blushed red as beetroot as, smiling a smile bright as sunshine, Dora Maddocks made her way towards the bench...

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #158 on: June 21, 2014, 10:23:43 AM »
***chapter 26*** 

***How It All Began***

As each of us does over the years, and whether we wish to or no, Whistledown village became larger.  And while it could hardly lay claim to being as big and important as the bustling town of Ashtree - which many rural Yorkshire folk now spoke of in awed tones as “The City”, regarding youngsters who upped sticks for Ashtree as sophisticated city dwellers – Whistledown, like each of us, was as big and important as it could possibly be under limited circumstances.

The once tiny village was no longer a blink-and-you'll-miss-it inconsequential dot on maps of Yorkshire, a place where ramblers, before hurrying on, paused briefly to thirstily down a well-earned pint at The Three Bells, or slot sixpence into the dairy machine in exchange for a triangular carton of fresh milk, or purchase a small bottle of fizzy lemonade with straw at the sweetshop, where the windows advertised  that commemorative copies of, among other Great Historic Events, the Two World Wars, the Crowning of Queen Elizabeth II, and, puzzlingly, The Thirties Thunderstorms, could be ordered here.  No, indeed.  Whistledown was grown up to be a fully fledged bold black circle.

Added to its old familiar shops were now a small supermarket, post office and gift shop, a cycle and camping gear shop, a health clinic, children’s play area and picnic tables, even a car park that in its capacity, to the great pride and frequent boast of the villagers, could hold a grand total of  ten cars and one coach.  A boom in tourism during the affluent 1960s added to Whistledown's sense of well being, and it was around the end of this decade that Whistledown church found itself suddenly doubling as a tourist information centre.  Which was all very well for Whistledown and all very well too, as it turned out, for Follyfoot Farm, but first let me tell you how it all began...

Reverend John Glover was sick and tired of sightseers.  He groaned as two more strolled into Whistledown Church.  Or, to view it how the good man of the cloth viewed it, yet more cameras, sunhats, sunglasses, sweaters looped around shoulders, maps and brochures had just sauntered into the House of God and were now leisurely gazing around, as though it were a stately home to which they had paid hefty admission fees. 

Another bone of contention.  Why did so many of these sightseers, including Britons (who surely must be familiar with the Great British weather) insist on wearing summer clothing just because it happened to be summer?  The very reason for the beautiful British scenery they waxed lyrical about, while complaining about the cold, wet weather in the same breath, was the beautiful British rain.  And, whatever the season, the open countryside that surrounded the eight ancient villages could often be prone to biting winds and sudden thunderstorms. 

Of course, the vicar thought grumpily, had it been winter, Britain could well be basking in a heatwave and the sightseers, after checking the calender instead of the window, wearing warm coats, hats, scarves, gloves and boots.  Today was the height of summer, and so the overcast Yorkshire sky was doing its damnedest to try for an afternoon downpour (though the best it could muster was intermittent spots of rain) while a busy wind rushed through the trees, whistling merrily in its work as it swept in through the church doors, left wide open by the latest visitors, presumably for easy access of leaves, dirt, broken twigs, petals, sweet wrappers, cigarette stumps and anything and everything else that the wind, like a small child  finding delight in the most random of objects, chose to collect along the way.

The sightseers chatted and laughed as they browsed while John Glover bit back a desire to yell at them to shut up, and instead concentrated on his proposed Sunday sermon.  God never shut anyone out and so anyone was free to come inside, the vicar chided himself.  Even if he did feel as protective of Whistledown Church as he did his six-year-old twin daughters.  He had been thrilled to learn of his posting to this parish, for it had long held a special place in his heart. 

As a young theology student, John Glover sat in the library one sunny afternoon, the open window carrying the sounds of a football game being played in the sports pavilion, and a particularly exciting match at that, if the loud shouts and groans of the spectators were anything to go by.  He was half wishing he'd decided to put his athletic skills to good use to pursue a sporting career instead of a religious one, and half wondering where on earth he was to begin with a twenty-page essay assignment, when a slight movement on the bookshelves caught his eye.  A long-legged spider had appeared from nowhere, to crawl along the top pages and down the spine of a thick reference book, before dropping with a gentle clatter to the floor and scurrying out, as though done with its studying for the day.  The future vicar curiously pulled the book out of the shelf, telling himself he deserved a five-minute break.  But the break stretched for over two hours and he forgot all about his essay, engrossed as he became in the spider's choice of literature. 

“A Complete History of British Churches”, with its glossy photographs and detailed facts, myths and stories about each had been his introduction to Whistledown Church and its links, via the seventeenth century grave of one Sir Richard Maddocks, with Follyfoot Farm.  Which in turn led to his interest in, and later reading about, Follyfoot Farm itself.  It had been fascinating to learn how Follyfoot, from its earliest beginnings in the business of hiring and selling horses, practised caring for all creatures, stabling even those horses too old or sick to work, giving them the freedom to live out the rest of their days unburdened.  How Follyfoot had quickly gained a reputation for excellence, and for kindness in never turning away anyone in need of food or shelter, how the rumour seeds of an enchanted Farm at the bottom of the hill were sewn. 

A reference in his sermon about offering a helping hand to those in trouble had carried him back to those heartwarming tales of a slower, kinder yesteryear, when a sound like gravel being crunched underfoot brought him abruptly him back into the present.  Rev Glover glanced up from the pulpit, where he was silently mouthing and timing his Sunday sermon (as was his rather eccentric habit and a source of great amusement to his fellow clergymen and women) to determine its cause.  And he quickly found it:  fat man in socks, sandals, shorts and Hawaiian shirt waddling down church aisle eating crisps. 

The fat man's equally plump wife elbowed him and hissed in a stage whisper, “Quit with the munchies, Mikey,  you're rumbled!  The big shot's glaring!” 

Unfortunately, she elbowed him a little too enthusiastically and thus, in perfect synchronization, crisp packet, crisps and Mikey all spilled together down on to the hallowed ground. 

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #159 on: June 21, 2014, 11:00:49 AM »
Chapter 26/How It All Began

Rumbled himself, the big shot could no longer feign ignorance to their presence and so he laid aside his papers and came towards the visitors, a smile plastered on his face.  He was not totally without sympathy, for the man was slightly injured, but John Glover had  nurtured this church as tenderly as he had (he hoped) nurtured his congregation.  Perhaps it was because it wasn't a very big church to begin with, perhaps it was to impress their neighbours, perhaps it was simply village tradition, but he liked to think the fact it was often packed to the rafters in these days of falling congregations was all down to him.  To see it covered in crisps broke his heart though nobody would have suspected.

“Not to worry, not to worry.  These things happen,” he said calmly as, in accordance with God's wishes, he and the fat man's wife helped a sinner get back on his feet.  In addition to the crisps, there was now, the vicar noted unhappily, a few drops of blood from the man's cut knee staining the ancient flagstones.  He sighed inwardly.  It was bad enough tourists asking silly questions (Did Whistledown have a holy statue that cried real tears or was that someplace in Ireland?/Did the church sell ice-creams?/Could the vicar kindly ask everyone to pray for them to win on Bingo this Saturday?) without adding a wide-eyed Was There a Murder Here Centuries Ago and Blood Spots that could Never be Washed Away No Matter how Hard Everyone had Tried? to the list.

That very evening, after Mrs Wells, the church cleaner, had dealt with the problem, after Mr Sightseer's knee had been bandaged by the village doctor and Mrs Sightseer recovered from her heart palpitations as “she couldn't bear the sight of blood” (the vicar had the unchristian like thought her palpitations had more to do with the sight of lost crisps), after Mr and Mrs Sightseer had enjoyed tea and more cakes than had actually been offered in the vicarage, leaving in their own sweet time, despite Mrs Glover's hints and his twin daughters huffing and puffing over wanting to tell Daddy all about school; after his extremely trying day, Rev Glover fired off a furious letter to The Yorkshire Beacon's letter page, asking why couldn't there be a designated tourist information office for the Yorkshire villages, as there apparently was now in Ashtree?   

Next morning he drew back the curtains to find a journalist and photographer camped out in the middle of the neat vicarage lawn.  The newspaper, it seemed, had taken it upon itself to campaign for one.   

Of course it had all been highly embarrassing when he was summoned by his superiors to explain why he had not consulted their esteemed selves before consulting The Yorkshire Beacon.  But in time the dust settled.  Left in peace to concentrate on the thousand and one matters that being vicar entailed, John Glover no longer dreaded the gaudy, flower-painted sightseeing coach pulling up outside to deposit day-trippers.  Thanks to the generosity of the  public (including a hefty donation from Lord and Lady Maddocks, which kick-started the whole project) a brand new tourist enquiries office now adjoined the church, God was in his Heaven and all was right with the world.

Sometimes he would glimpse Fred Semple or Colin Fergus taking tourists on the Around the Village Walk or ushering them into a minibus for the Eight Villages Drive  or – to the vicar's barely concealed laughter – on a certain memorable occasion, when the usual actor had confused his dates and gone off to star in panto, Colin Fergus, his face like thunder, dressed as a Mad Monk and accompanied by a gentleman in Victorian costume and a Lady in White, setting off at dusk for the popular Ghost Walk.

The tourist industry went from strength to strength.  Last summer, in the office's very first year, they had needed to hire an office junior, a pleasant, always busy, young lady on holiday from college, who, albeit nervously, once or twice even stood in as Whistledown Church and Cemetery Tour Guide.  But Julie was unavailable this summer, and Fred and Colin must have established a more efficient system, or the new junior was incredibly good at his job, for he seemed to have plenty of time in which to gaze out of windows, amble around the grounds or, like now, sit idly on benches.

Rev Glover smiled as he espied young Dora Maddocks from Follyfoot Farm, carrying a bouquet of flowers and making her way towards Bertha Smith and the new junior, both of whom sat on the memorial bench, the latter with his legs sprawled before him and his face red as fire.  Well, he wasn't the first and he wouldn't be the last young man to fall in unrequited love with pretty Miss Maddocks, the vicar reflected.  He had seen the same expression on many a lad – and a certain handsome, black-haired youth, also of Follyfoot Farm, set many a lass's heart a-flutter, too, with his moody glower.  Love was so grand and alas so bittersweet!  The handsome youth and pretty miss were equally unaware that each often cast telling glances at the other.   Too shy, too young, too far removed in their social class, it would take a miracle to get them together. 

And yet miracles did indeed happen at Follyfoot Farm.

John Glover had been extremely disappointed when, soon after taking up the post of vicar, he visited Follyfoot and found it no more than mud and abandonment, where only the graceful, aging manor house seemed to have received any attention over the years.  A grey pond filled with algae.  Overgrown weeds and broken fences.  Farmhouse and stables, empty and brooding.  Shuttered.  Locked.  Silent.

Dead. 

This, the Follyfoot that had changed lives.  This, the Follyfoot of love and kindness and second chances.  A haven for the lost, a friend for the lonely, a home for the unwanted.  Deserted now.  Gone were the dreams, gone was the hope. 

If John Glover had been familiar with the Lightning Tree tradition, he may have dipped a nearby rusty old tin bucket into the murky pond and taken what little water he could to its neglected roots.  As Bertha, told the tale by Jimmy, did in his memory whenever she remembered - which, sadly, was rarely now, for while poor Bertha could recollect in great detail what happened in years long gone, she no longer recollected what happened five minutes before.  However, as it had never been recorded, John Glover knew nothing of the old superstition, and he sighed heavily as he trudged back to his car.  Further enquiries revealed that occasionally a maintenance company and an elderly and increasingly vague “housekeeper” visited the manor house and kept it from falling down completely.  This was all.  Follyfoot had given up.  Too many mountains to climb, too many dreams broken.  Its soul ripped apart. 

Yet a pinprick of light shone through the darkness.  Once a week an anonymous council official was dispatched to Whistledown Cemetery, to lay flowers on the grave of  Little Cowboy Jimmy, and once a month an invoice for four weeks' worth of flowers was forwarded to London.  Granted, it was paid by another anonymous official on behalf of Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence Maddocks, they being far too busy and far too far away in Brazil, attending functions or preventing wars or being important, or whatever it is that diplomats do.  It was a tiny sign that Follyfoot still cared.   And not enough for a phoenix to rise from the ashes. 

But perhaps the magic whispered its secrets to the ghosts and memories that very night.  Or perhaps the vicar tagged an extra request on to his prayers.  Or perhaps Bertha or someone, somewhere, knew the Lightning Tree's story and made their way purposefully down to that silent Farm at the bottom of Whistledown Hill.  We will never know.


/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #160 on: June 21, 2014, 11:08:21 AM »
Chapter 26/How It All Began

For call it coincidence, call it a prayer answered, call it what you will, but barely a year later a tall, slender, silver-haired man with a refined accent and a white-haired, woollen-hatted, stocky man, who spoke in a peculiar mix of Cockney and Yorkshire slang peppered with colourful curses, tramped determinedly through the mud and rubble of Follyfoot Farm.  And as the refined gentleman was a regular churchgoer, Rev John Glover quickly made the acquaintance of Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks, ex-Army, ex-public schoolboy, ex-heir to a family fortune, and Slugger Jones, ex-batman, ex-boxer, ex-pupil in the school of hard knocks.  Between them, they planned to open Follyfoot as a home for sick, unwanted and ill-treated horses.  It was surely an impossible task and yet fate had already stepped in:  the property developer consulted to discuss renovations turned out to be a long lost childhood friend of the colonel's.  And Brian Stryker turned out to be a man who had always operated with the highest principles in the often corrupt world of money, who could call in favours from a wide variety of business associates impressed with his honesty over the years.

Over the months, the Farm was rebuilt.  Night and day came the sound of hammering, sawing, drilling; the smell of paint, wood, cement; the sight of trucks, tractors, diggers; the taste of magic and hope breathing once more on the fresh country air.

In time, too, came the clip-clop of hooves, the familiar homely smell of hay and horse, the wonderful sight of the most noble of creatures, no longer bowed down by man's cruelty and neglect, but learning to trust again, growing in confidence and strength, heads raised, tails swishing, eyes filled with love and gratitude for those that cared for them now.  And they were a motley bunch, these carers.  Two elderly men, old soldiers in the battles of life as well as war; two youths wild and quick to anger; a young girl, a beautiful young girl, waif-like and ethereal, full of wishes and dreams.  Coming together at Follyfoot as if they were always meant to be. 

As if they were home.



AUTHOR'S NOTE: I realise I've been a bit lazy in writing about the re-opening of Follyfoot Farm and Ron Stryker's father's part in it, but it's described in much more detail in Chapter 14.  The next chapter will be the FINAL chapter.  It might be quite a long time before it's up tho, as I haven't even begun it yet and I'm still working on two other stories, plus my brain has gone into slow motion so my writing takes forever nowadays.  :( To anyone who's still with me in this rambling tale, thanks for keeping me company since Dec 2009!!!  :o ;) ;) ;)




Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #161 on: August 09, 2014, 05:32:14 PM »
As this final chapter is taking me forever and it's been seven weeks since I last updated, thought I'd post the first part of it.  :)
 

***chapter 27***

***How It All Ended***

There are places I remember all my life
 (“In My Life” Lennon/McCartney)


The lanky, red-headed, denim-clad biker rested his motorbike against the graveyard wall and, after a lingering glance at the machine, which gleamed back at him in the breezy sunlight, as if both hated to be parted, strolled into Whistledown Cemetery, somewhat puzzlingly wearing a funeral wreath around his neck like a Hawaiian lei.

“Wotcher!”  He greeted.

And, winking at Dora, waving at Bertha and glowering at Tommy Jackson,  Ron Stryker joined said three to sit, or rather sprawl, on the memorial bench dedicated to Little Cowboy Jimmy.

“Not much room 'ere then,” he observed, taking up most of the space.  “Like bleedin' sardines, three of us are,” he added, for Tommy Jackson's benefit, as he flung the wreath towards a certain headstone.  It landed neatly across one side.  Satisfied, he turned to Dora with a smirk. “Could've been a champion basketball player, me.  Could've made millions.  But, no, waste me time with useless, knackered al' nags instead.  Dunno why we bother.”

“Oh, Ron!”  Dora smiled back at him, her eyes dancing, knowing he didn't mean a word of it. Ron had a heart of gold underneath the tough exterior.

Bertha seemed to snap suddenly out of a faraway reverie.  “Ronald Gilroy Stryker, are you really too lazy to arrange Jimmy's wreath properly?”

The miscreant groaned.  Why must Bertha forget everything except what people wanted her to forget? His Dad had let slip his middle name a week or two back and the teasing from everyone at Follyfoot had been merciless ever since.  “I can't move, Bertha.  Could shatter me 'eart even more.  Me girlfriend's dumped me, see.”  He flashed his cheekiest smile.  “What do I care though when I'm madly in love with two beautiful women?”

Ron got up to sit next inbetwen Bertha and Dora and put his arms around their shoulders, which pushed young Mr Jackson even further down the bench.  But by now Tommy could take enough hints.  It was obvious that Stryker fancied Dora.  What bloke in his right mind didn't?  And it was obvious too that Dora wasn't interested in Tommy.  Besides, all this talk of love and girlfriends reminded him of his ex-girlfriend, Sophie.  Tired of the sun's glare stinging his eyes –the sun was the reason for the stinging, it had nothing to do with Sophie, it didn't - he wandered off to the shade of the church.  He loved Sophie.  He'd written a poem for Sophie.  He'd never worked so hard on anything in his life as he'd worked on that poem for Sophie.  It was still in his pocket.  Old Bertha Smith had advised him to get it to her somehow, but how he...

“Hey.” He knew that light touch on his arm even before he turned around.  What he didn't know was, what Sophie was doing here in the porch of Whistledown church, silky blonde hair blowing a little in the cooling breeze, smile hesitant, blue eyes waiting for answers.  What he didn't know was, how to tell her it didn't mean a thing when he'd told a mutual friend he thought Dora Maddocks beautiful, the reason for their blazing row, Sophie storming off and refusing to speak to him since. 

So he simply said, feeling oddly shy, “I wrote you this” and handed her two double-sided pages torn out of the church invoice ledger. 

It was a strange kind of poem.  Rambling, mis-spelt words written in biro, pencil, ink and green felt-tip,  scribbled notes, crossings out, blots (at one stage Tommy had tried out Mr Fergus's fountain pen  but as it couldn't be comfortably chewed it was soon abandoned) red ink (Mr Semple's biro had been just asking to be chewed in deep thought though normally he gave biros a wide berth where chewing was concerned), four lines of invoice details and various doodles whenever inspiration refused to strike.  He waited with bated breath and hammering heart as his ex-girlfriend read, looking baffled and torn between whether to laugh or cry.

“Tommy,” Sophie said at last.  “That's the worst poem I ever read.”  (The only clue that it actually was a poem had been in the title “A Poem for Sophie” written for some peculiar reason in green felt-tip.)  She folded it carefully in her handbag though and two pink spots appeared on her cheeks.

“Can't we give it another go, Soph?”  he asked hesitantly.  Hopefully.

“I'm not sure...I was thinking...”  She trailed off uncertainly though the small smile encouraged him to lock his fingers in hers.  She didn't pull away but nor did she clasp his hands any tighter.  “I  couldn't decide.  Gran asked me what was wrong and when I told her she said maybe I should ask God for guidance.  She's into all that religious stuff...” Sophie rolled her eyes.  “I thought it was a daft idea but I was passing Whistledown Church so...But I couldn't bring myself to pray to some Being that may or may not exist.  It's not the same as when I was little and believed in angels and fairies and Father Christmas.  Then I got to thinking just now outside the church.  Seeing the Follyfoot people down there on the bench.  You were talking to the old lady.  And then she came...Dora.”

“I swear, Soph, there's nothing...”

“I know.  I think deep down I've always known.  I was thinking...they say Follyfoot's all about second chances, don't they?  And your poem, it is terrible, but..but I love it so much.”

The young couple grinned at each other before they kissed.  It was a moment they would always remember.  The moment Sophie decided, young as they were, they were soul-mates.  The moment Tommy decided if they were going to marry and have a family some day – he hoped they would – he  had to grow up.  That mean working hard, he realised, with an inner sigh.  By the time they married in Whistledown Church a few years later, he was chief tourist officer and an expert on the history of Follyfoot.  And as professionalism was essential in such a prestigious job, it was fortunate that he'd long since stopped chewing pencils.


Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #162 on: August 23, 2014, 03:45:01 PM »
AUTHOR'S NOTE:  This is still the same day, when they're all in Whistledown Cemetery.  Steve, the colonel and Slugger have yet to arrive, in case you were wondering!  ;)  Anyway, thought it was time we caught up with Lewis:-


chapter 27/Final Chapter/How It All Ended

Lewis lowered the small pair of binoculars and frowned.  Where the hell was Ron?  He wasn't at home, he'd already checked.   And he wasn't at Follyfoot Farm, that was for sure.  You could spot that bleedin' red hair of his from the Moon.  In fact, none of the Follyfoot losers seemed to be around.  What the heck was going on?

He kick-started the bike again, the machine coughing out low splutters as he rode with uncharacteristic slowness, spatterings of mud firing up on his brand new motorbike boots and dotting his classy new jeans.  Chicks liked guys who looked cool and normally ruining good gear like this would have royally pissed him off.  But today he had other things on his mind.  Anyway, his latest clobber might have cost a packet, but Lewis didn't have to worry about a trivial thing like money.  Unlike Ron, he didn't need to work.  His old man stumped up the readies whenever he wanted him to. 

Sydney Hammond owned Hammond's Hotel and Riding School and had a finger in a lot of pies, many of them crooked, which all combined to make him an extremely wealthy man.  Brian Stryker wasn't quite so well off, but his property business was booming, and he was certainly comfortable.  Back in the good old days, Lew and Ron would live it up with unlimited dosh to fritter away on booze, bikes and birds.  Until Ron's old man got into a strop over suspecting Ron to be involved with the Night Riders.  Next thing they knew, he'd gone and struck up some kind of deal with a mad-eyed, loopy ex-colonel, who'd taken over the running of a dilapidated old farm with an equally decrepit and equally doolally old geezer.  Then he'd given Ron an ultimatum:  either take the job at Follyfoot or anywhere else and pay your own way -  or Get Out.  Knowing full well there was no chance of  his son, with his impressive police record, securing employment.  And the obvious choice of somewhere to doss down, the Hammonds Hotel, had been bursting at the seams with the holiday season full on. 

Lewis had been highly amused at his friend's predicament and thoroughly enjoyed winding him up over it, expecting Ron to flat out refuse and Brian Stryker – Dad said he was a pushover, could've been ten times wealthier with his property business than he was, if he wasn't such a stickler for everything being above board  – to cave in within days.  But things hadn't gone the way he'd imagined.  Ron actually took up the Follyfoot offer and even informed Lewis that his father had arranged a job there for him too, if he wanted it.  Lew had laughed till he cried at the very idea, expecting Ron to come to his senses in a week or two.  But that hadn't happened either.  And Ron changed.  He'd always been a bit of a wuss, but wasting time looking after useless old nags?  Sheesh, Lew hadn't seen that one coming.  Nowadays his mate even spent more time with the Follyfoot lot than he did with Lew and the gang. 

He slowed the motorbike to a dead halt, digging one heel in the soft, muddy ground and checked out the Farm again.  Still nothing.  He cursed as he pulled the neck cord over his head and slipped the binoculars back inside his jacket, drew out a pack of cigarettes and cupped his hands against the wind as he fired up a match.  Lucky there were no cops around to ask awkward questions and haul him in.  And haul him in they would, if he was caught here.

“Looking for me best mate,” would not cut muster.  Law-abiding citizens did not employ peculiar measures to find a friend, like taking detours to surrounding fields to check out a friend's whereabouts with binoculars.  They either went to the place the friend was supposed to be and enquired about them, or they telephoned, yelled across a hedge or fence, rapped smartly on the friend's window, or simply rang the friend's doorbell.  Lew could hear the sarcasm already.  Kindly care to explain, Mr Hammond, exactly why you were spying on Follyfoot Farm?  And if your intentions were innocent, why you didn't simply go there?

Ha.  As if he'd ever tell anyone.  You see, there was something about Follyfoot that...

…...scared him.  He never could figure what.  Maybe it had to do with its old nickname, The Haunted Farm, and not that he believed in ghosts but, being the son of a hotel proprietor, he'd grown up hearing stories about folk who'd supposedly seen its two phantom black horses.  Dad had milked the superstitions and legends for all they were worth to generate more business, and along with tales of Mother Shipton, Padfoot and The Screaming Skull, Ghost Horses of the Haunted Farm could be found in the Yorkshire Mysteries booklet guests could purchase for an inflated price from Reception.  Once, before Follyfoot re-opened, a group of tourists had even taken tents and torches and gone down to the Farm in the dead of night in the hope of capturing the paranormal on camera.

Maybe it wasn't surprising he could never shake off the feeling there was something creepy about Follyfoot Farm and that if he went in too far...something would happen.  Although he had no idea what that something was.  Ron had changed, no two ways about it.  And he didn't want to be different.  He liked being Lew.  Didn't he?   

That was why, right now when he had the perfect opportunity to get his revenge on the snobby rich bitch who'd reported Sydney Hammond to the authorities, for allowing two of the Riding School horses to be ridden while lame - it wasn't as if they were bloody dying, was it? They were just hobbling a bit and they were only animals, for Christ sake! -  when he could have created havoc and let the horses loose, while the Follyfoot jerks were all out, and a couple of naïve helpers left all on their own, he didn't.  It was different when he was with the gang.  The fear was still there, but there was safety in numbers, and he was careful to avoid the stable block by the Lightning Tree.  Because where the ghost horses had been seen most often, that was where the feeling was the strongest...

Christ, he needed to stop thinking weird stuff like this or he'd end up in a loony bin!  Where the bloody hell was Ron anyway?  Lewis threw down his finished cigarette and absently watched it sink into the mud.  Not that he'd ever admit it, especially not to Ron, but he was lost without him.  Their mates picked up on the close friendship, called them gay, faggots, poofters.  But it wasn't like that and their mates knew it.

Ron was a brother.  Always had been, always would be.  Neither of them recollected meeting, but apparently it had been when they were just four years old, in the hospital where both their mothers passed away on the very same night.** As far as Ron was concerned, Lew had been around forever.  As far as Lew was concerned, Ron had always been there in the background.  They'd plotted together from the days of Ashtree Kindergarten.  Backed each other up.  Provided an alibi for the other whenever one was needed.  Pulled scams together.  Raced each other, at first on kids' scooters and cycles, and later on horses and motorbikes.  Ron lent him his bike when Lew's was out of action. Lew was good for a few bevvies if Ron was low on funds.  Ron dished out the advice the time Lew thought he'd got Chrissie Driscoll up the duff.   Lew fixed Ron up on a date with his bird's sister.   Give, take, give, take.  Though right from the start Lewis had been the leader. Taller, richer, stronger.  The big bro Ron aspired to be. 

**See Chapter 14; The Sound of Silence

/continued on next page

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #163 on: August 23, 2014, 03:51:41 PM »
/chapter 27/Final Chapter/How It All Ended

Everything changed when Ron joined forces with the Follyfoot losers.  Suddenly he didn't take orders from Lewis any more.  He pulled away from the gang.  Lost interest in trashing places and terrorizing people for the sheer hell of it, no longer wanted to go on raids, laughing off being called a wimp.  Sure, he was still a good mate, would down a pint with him at The Three Bells, or go scrambling on the bikes, still joined in the scams or gave him an alibi if the heat was on with the law.

Bu there were no more cover stories for when Lew was out with the Night Riders.

It was the closest they ever came to a complete rift, and for the life of him Lewis couldn't figure out what the problem was.  Sure, they'd had hundreds of fights before; when they were kids they often wrestled each other to the ground, with Lew, who didn't mind playing dirty, inevitably and to his great satisfaction, coming out on top.  Ron had had a major flaw even back then:  fight fair.  It never failed to amuse Lew at how angry his friend got the times he produced a weapon after swearing black and blue he was clean.  Never would learn.  But somehow they always got through whatever the argument was about. So why be so prissy about the latest barney?

Scaring the horses was a laugh.  So the boys nobbled a few nags.  So what?  More business for Hammond's Riding School.  And the adrenalin flowed.   Wearing hankies over their faces like Wild West gunslingers as they galloped through the night, the thunder of hooves, the frantic neighing and rearing of the horses, the whoops and yells of the gang, and often the terrified screams of the owners.  Keeping one breathless step ahead of the cops.  Getting smashed or high or both afterwards, sometimes before, sometimes in the middle of the madness.  Once Ron might've been a part of it all.  Not since Follyfoot though.  Nothing was the same since Follyfoot.

The distant chime of bells rose on the wind that whistled eerily as it swept across the moors, breaking his chain of thought.  Whistledown Church, no doubt.  Maybe a wedding or time check or the anniversary of Guy Fawkes's second-cousin's great-grandmother baking a cake, who the hell knew?  The poncy vicar, who'd got the tourist office set up there, seemed to get his rocks off with the racket; the bells were forever ringing out for one bloody thing or another. 

He shook his windblown hair out of his eyes, shaking away hopes, dreams and memories of yesterday.  So.  To the present.  Well, he could either sit here a while longer or go catch up with the gang.  Or go down to Follyfoot Farm and double-check his best mate wasn't simply hidden from view, maybe in the stables sleeping off a kingsize hangover.  But the idea of going down to Follyfoot made him shiver.  No chance.  He was keeping well away from someplace with a reputation for being haunted, someplace that had changed Ron. 

The blustering wind, playfully chasing cloud shadows across the sunlit Yorkshire countryside, as it had done all that day, breathed a chill into the air, and he turned the bike around.  Another gust of wind, wilder and colder than the rest, hurried fallen leaves through the long grass as he kick-started the machine and roared back towards the town. 

A solitary figure riding through silent, empty fields.

Offline Marie

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Re: When the Snow Falls (parts one and two) by Marie
« Reply #164 on: October 05, 2014, 12:36:12 PM »
AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Ummm...this update was meant to be about Slugger and Colonel Maddocks, but, as you'll see, I got a bit carried away... ::) ::) ::).  As always, will be quite a while before the next update.  :)


/Chapter 27/Final Chapter/How It All Ended

The bells of Whistledown Church were ringing out in a curious mix of sombre joy.  Now that may well seem a contradiction in terms but bear with me, reader, strain your ears and listen for yourself.  It's only a distant echo, the whistling wind is so much louder and so much older, billions of years compared to the church's mere centuries, but the chimes are fighting valiantly to travel all the way down to the farm nestling at the bottom of Whistledown Hill.  There, now!  Did you hear?  And did the faraway music send tingles down your spine to catch your breath and seize your heart?

Some of the Follyfoot horses shook their manes as if wondering whatever was to do with the world for church bells to be pealing out like this on an unremarkable weekday instead of Sunday or Easter or Christmas time.  Some took no interest whatsoever in the anomaly, or if they did they hid it well, with no more than a swish of their tail or thoughtful gaze in their warm eyes.  One or two looked around at each other and at the strangely quiet Farm in puzzlement as if wondering, Where were the moody, dark-haired boy who trusted them with confidences; the beautiful young girl with autumn hair and kindly whispers; the carrot-topped youth who liked to sing loudly and sleep behind the stables?  And just why were the two elderly Follyfooters ensconced in the drawing room of the rarely-used and sparsely-furnished manor house?

A few of the horses had been loved and cared for before coming to Follyfoot only to lose their owner to death or illness or poverty; a great many more had been treated cruelly and never known love at all.  But here at Follyfoot Farm they'd learnt what it was.  It was far more than food and shelter; more than being rubbed down or taken for a bracing canter in the fresh country air; more even than a kind word or a smile...it was knowing they were loved.  Unconditionally. 

The helpers, who came from the nearby village, had apparently been hired just for today and were caring and pleasant enough, but they just weren't the moody boy, the autumn-haired girl or the carrot-topped youth.  Nor were they the two elderly Follyfooters, who, even more oddly, stood in the drawing room of the rarely-used and sparsely-furnished manor house looking at its only painting.  Oh, the horses were quite certain that the three young people and the two elderly gentlemen would return.  Being loved unconditionally meant being certain.  But in the interim it was a very strange day.  A very strange day indeed. 

A day for captured hearts.

*****

The drawing room of the manor house, in which Slugger Jones and Colonel Geoffrey Maddocks stood, like all the rooms in the grand (and rather snooty) old building, smelled of wood and dust and loneliness.  Spiders set up home there, and not content with the banqueting hall, spun themselves silver threads on the huge walls and high ceilings in which to dine.  As fast as they were swept away, as fast the eight-legged architects built them anew, which might or might not have been a good thing. 

For there was no other sign that the Follyfoot manor house was ever loved. 

And I'm sure you must wonder why this should be so when widow Bertha Smith still came twice a week to advise the maintenance company on what needed to be done in order to bring to it cosy touches of home.  Well, it's a pleasant little tale and I don't mind telling it. 

Twice a week, Bertha Smith, the snooty old building's housekeeper, came to Follyfoot Farm.  Twice a week, she stopped by the stable block to pat the horses and perhaps give them a treat of chopped apple or carrot, then stopped by the farmhouse to chat to the Follyfooters. Twice a week, she drank Slugger's stewed tea and tasted his dubious culinary delights with admirable stoicism – or perhaps, as I rather suspect, Bertha's hands were so busy knitting and her tongue so busy talking that food and drink rarely touched her lips.  And then, having completely forgotten why she came in the first place, and never bothering to check her bank account to wonder why it was credited  every month with wages for housekeeping, Bertha went home.

But it seems this odd arrangement suited all concerned..

Lord Arthur and Lady Prudence Maddocks, just as they had done for several years, still paid Mrs Smith's salary, and for a maintenance company to regularly call and carry out any necessary repairs to the Follyfoot manor house.  Arthur, overwhelmingly glad to get the muddy old Farm off his hands when his eldest brother, poor old Dotty Geoff as the family called him in secret (and who'd bypassed his inheritance in favour of Arthur) proposed to open it as a rest home for retired and ill-treated horses, declared it to be “the least he could do, Geoffrey, old bean”.  After all, one never knew when one might take it into one's head to re-visit one's past and mix with country yokel commoners for one's amusement, Prudence remarked with a high-pitched girlish giggle, at the dinner party to commemorate the re-opening of Parliament, (she was a little squiffy from too much champagne). But of course Queen Elizabeth was far too polite to mention it though she did raise her eyebrows at Prince Philip.  (You know, Her Majesty being, as I've heard tell, quite a horsey person, I often wonder what would have happened if she had made further enquiries about a place as dear to all our hearts as Follyfoot Farm, but of course it never happened so no use fretting over what might have been.) 

As Bertha now did no housekeeping at all, it was arranged for the maintenance company to add this, and a higher fee, to their services, and even if it was no more than soulless cleaning without the homely touches Bertha had provided, well then, where was the harm?  The Maddocks kept their manor house in fair condition, the maintenance company made a fair profit, and Bertha – well, Bertha had a fair old time of it.

For how charming it was to see the young folk fuss over the white-haired octogenarian.  Soft-hearted Ron would tease with a wink and a joke and a kiss of the wrinkled, paper-thin cheek; gentle Dora would smile her enchanting, wistful smile, and hold both wrinkled, liver-spotted hands if Bertha wasn't knitting, and often skeins of wool for Bertha to wind if she was; hot-tempered Steve would pull up a chair and listen patiently to some rambling story from decades past.  Occasionally Bertha remembered that he had a grandmother and great-aunt that he didn't see half as often as he would have wished because the horses' welfare took up so much time; sometimes she had no idea who any of them were.  They were, all three, the same age Mrs Smith's grandchildren would have been if only her babies had stayed long enough to grow up and have families of their own, and once or twice, in her poignant world of yesteryear, she somehow thought they were. Nobody corrected the mistake.

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