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The Bonds of Earth
By E.V. Thompson
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2012 E.V. Thompson
All rights reserved.
Making his way back to Roach Farm after a fruitless search on the high moor for Agnes Roach's missing milk-cow, Goran Trebartha decided to take a short cut through a strip of land that extended like a warning finger from the vast Spurre Estate, barring access from a large part of Agnes's farm to the wide upland expanse of Bodmin Moor.
Although there was a proliferation of 'Private' and 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' notices posted around this small outreach of the estate there was little reason for anyone to want to trespass here. The steep granite-strewn slope had not supported a profitable crop for many years and gorse and ferns proliferated. There was also woodland of sorts here, a number of trees having been planted by long forgotten members of the Spurre family.
The gorse, dense in places, hid many springs from which a skein of streams tumbled down the hillside to add zest to the otherwise lethargic River Lynher on its meandering course through Cornwall from the heights of Bodmin Moor to feed the tidal River Tamar on the south coast of the county.
It was as he skirted one of these springs that Goran heard a sound so alien to his surroundings that it brought him to an immediate and disbelieving halt. It was the sound of laughter – the laughter of young girls – and was coming from within an extensive clump of gorse bushes.
The area was familiar to him, his cottage home being on an adjacent farm, and he knew there were no girls living in the immediate vicinity. Indeed, there were very few dwellings. The moor which towered above the surrounding countryside on this side of the river was an inhospitable place and communities had tended to choose the comparative shelter of Cornish valleys. Only an occasional remote farm like those worked by Agnes Roach and her brother Elworthy clung tenaciously to the slopes of the moor, its occupants eking out a meagre yet fiercely independent existence.
Pushing his way through the needle-sharp foliage of the gorse, Goran suddenly emerged into a small clearing. Here, the bubbling waters of the spring had carved out a crystal clear pool of water bordered by tiny island clumps of both soft and compact rushes.
In the pool was the source of the merriment he had heard. A young girl of about three or four years of age was seated in the water, splashing two others. One, aged about sixteen, was also sitting in the water. The third, possibly a year or two older, was standing in the pool laughingly protesting at the young child's antics.
All were stark naked.
The youngest of the trio had her back to him and, unaware of his sudden unexpected arrival, continued splashing happily. The others saw him immediately, but their reactions differed.
The second girl screamed and hunched forward in the water, arms crossed in a vain attempt to cover newly matured breasts. The oldest girl was also startled, but only for a few moments. Aware she could not cover herself with any real degree of modesty, she dropped her hands to her side and lifted her chin arrogantly. 'If you've seen all you want and have finished gawking you can make yourself useful and throw me one of those towels you're almost standing on.'
Startled though he was at coming across three naked girls so unexpectedly, he was relieved when he heard her speak. His first thought had been that he had stumbled upon some young residents of the estate on which he was trespassing enjoying a private bathe. Had that been so he would have been in serious trouble, but this girl's accent was decidedly working-class Cornish. He doubted whether she and the others had more entitlement to be here than had he.
Recovering his senses, he picked up the largest of three threadbare lengths of towelling lying at his feet. Trying not to look directly at the girl standing so boldly before him, he screwed it into a loose bundle and threw it in her direction.
Deftly catching it, she wrapped it about her body with a relieved haste which belied her brazen attempt at nonchalance. Now feeling less vulnerable, she demanded, 'What do you mean by coming here and frightening the life out of us ... have you been peeping at us through the bushes?'
'I haven't been peeping at anyone. I've been up on the moor searching for Agnes Roach's milk-cow which broke its way out of her field and I was on my way back to her farm when I heard you all laughing. I've never seen any girls up around here before so I came to find out what was going on.'
'Well, now you've seen more of us than anyone else ever has you can go on your way again.'
At that moment the girl who was crouching low over the surface of the shallow pool in a vain attempt to hide her nakedness, pleaded, 'Morwenna, will you give me my towel, I'm freezing in here?'
Stepping clear of the pool, Morwenna picked up a towel and took it to the shivering girl at the same time saying to the youngest one, 'Do you want a towel too?'
Instead of replying to the question, the young girl asked, 'Do we have to go now?' Looking at Goran accusingly, she added, 'We were having fun before you came.'
Stepping out of the pool once more, Morwenna said to Goran, 'I thought I told you to go. We haven't seen anything of any old cow, so you can go and look for her somewhere else. Who are you, anyway?'
'Goran Trebartha, from the cottage at Elworthy Farm. I work for widow Agnes Roach ... at least, I do in the afternoon. Mornings I work for Elworthy Coumbe, Agnes's brother, on the farm next to hers.' He turned his head away as he spoke, to avoid watching the girls as they dressed.
'You might as well be talking of places on the moon for all I know about 'em, but I do know we were all enjoying a bathe before you came along,' Morwenna commented.
'You are lucky it was me and not Marcus Grimble, Sir John Spurre's head gamekeeper. He'd not have bothered to come through the gorse to find out who was in here. He'd have put a blast of bird-shot into the bushes and ordered whoever it was in here to come out before he fired something heavier.'
'He wouldn't do that ... it might well kill someone!'
'That wouldn't worry him, he likes boasting about the number of Frenchies he killed in the war against Napoleon. If he shot you he'd make up some story about why he did it – and Sir John would back him up. There's more than one miner who's gone home with his backside peppered with buckshot after poaching on the Spurre Estate.'
'Our dad's a mine captain,' the small girl spoke again, more cheerfully than before. Pulling on her dress without drying herself properly, she had encountered problems pulling it down over her wet body. Now, the task satisfactorily completed she wriggled herself into the dress more comfortably and, smiling innocently at Goran, added, 'I'm Jennifer, Jennifer Pyne.'
She had an infectious smile, but at that moment Goran heard the baying of a hound somewhere in the near-distance – and the sound alarmed him.
'That's probably Grimble now, walking a young hound. We'd all better get off Spurre land before the hound gets our scent. Quick, follow me!'
For a moment it seemed Morwenna would argue with him, but, as Goran pushed his way through the gorse, returning the way he had come, the second of the three sisters snatched up Jennifer. When she followed him, Morwenna hurriedly picked up the towels and hurried after them.
Goran led the three girls between trees and gorse bushes until they reached a free-stone granite wall which marked the boundary of the estate. Choosing a spot where a number of pieces of stone had been dislodged, he shinned over then turned to take Jennifer from her sister. Lifting her over the wall he deposited her in the field which was part of Agnes Roach's farm, before helping the sister over. He would have done the same for Morwenna but she ignored his proffered hand and jumped heavily to the ground.
Their escape had only just been achieved when a young foxhound came into view. Seeing Goran and the girls beyond the low part of the wall it bounded towards them baying enthusiastically, the sound carrying high notes of immaturity.
When the animal reached the wall it scrambled over clumsily and, arriving among the small party greeted them with tail-wagging enthusiasm.
Tentatively at first, but with increasing delight, the girls returned the affection of their new-found canine friend, much to the displeasure of the red-faced, breathless gamekeeper who appeared at the wall some moments later.
'Leave that hound alone, it's a working animal not a pet. If it gets too friendly with people it'll need to be put down.'
'It may be a working dog when it's on your side of the wall, Mr Grimble, but over here on Mrs Roach's land it seems to like making friends.'
'It's a nice dog ... it just licked my face!' Jennifer Pyne's words were accompanied by an expression of distaste, swiftly belied by a delighted giggle.
'It's not supposed to be friendly,' Marcus Grimble scowled, adding a loud-voiced 'Come here!' to the hound.
'Does it have a name?' The question came from the middle sister.
'I'll give it more than a name if it doesn't come here when I call it. ... Come here, damn you!'
Recognizing the authority in Grimble's shouted command, the young fox-hound abandoned its new found friends. Leaping at the wall it made a splay-legged attempt to make it to the other side, giving a yelp of pain when it was helped none-too-gently by the gamekeeper.
In response to the murmured protests from the three girls, Grimble said, 'Unless I'm very much mistaken you've been trespassing on the estate ... and there's no good trying to deny it. The hound may be disobedient but there's nothing wrong with its nose. It followed your scent straight here.'
'It probably had nothing to do with the dog's nose,' Goran retorted. 'The girls were larking about and making a noise. You wouldn't have been able to hear them but the dog could.'
The explanation was feasible enough to give Grimble pause but, reluctant to accept it, he said, 'That might be so, or it might not. Whichever, you make certain you stay off the estate ... all of you. If I catch you trespassing you'll be taken straight before the magistrate.'
'Then be sure you keep your hounds on Spurre land and don't let 'em come over here,' Goran replied, '... another thing, the hunt damaged Mrs Roach's hedges last season and no one's been around to fix 'em yet. As a result her milk-cow got out today. Should anything have happened to it Sir John will be getting a bill from her, and if I know Sir John he'll be deducting it from someone's pay.'
Goran was aware that in addition to his gamekeeper's duties Marcus Grimble was responsible for the foxhounds and would be expected to right any damage caused during hunting.
'You have far too much to say for yourself, young Trebartha. It'll land you in trouble one day. You and your friends would do well to keep out of my way.'
With this the gamekeeper stooped down behind the wall to slip a loop of rope around the foxhound's neck before brutally tugging the animal around in order to return the way they had come.CHAPTER 2
'What a horrid man!'
The remark was made by the second of the three girls, who Goran had heard called 'Nessa' by her younger sister.
'He's not particularly nice,' Goran agreed, 'but what he says is quite true. Anyone caught trespassing on the Spurre Estate is taken before a magistrate who always points out that there are a great many signs around the estate giving warning that it's private land.'
'You must have been trespassing or you wouldn't have found us there,' Nessa pointed out.
'I was trespassing,' Goran admitted, 'but only because it was a short cut back to the farm where I work, I was keeping a sharp look-out for anyone belonging to the estate – and wasn't contaminating the water from one of their springs by bathing in it! What made you choose to bathe there anyway? Where do you come from? I haven't seen you around this way before.'
'Where we come from is none of your business,' Morwenna said sharply, feeling she had been left out of the conversation for long enough.
'True enough,' Goran shrugged, 'but if I knew where you lived I could tell you the best way to get back there without going on Sir John's land. I could also probably tell you of a better place to bathe than in water from a spring on the estate. ... You were stupid to be there in the first place. As I've said, there are plenty of signs telling you it's private.'
'That's all very well if you can read. I've never bothered to learn and don't see any reason to.'
'Nessa can read,' Jennifer said seriously. 'She reads stories to me sometimes. She's going to teach me to read too.'
When Goran looked at Nessa questioningly, she said, 'I saw the signs telling people to keep out but Morwenna wouldn't listen to me.'
'I don't take any notice of such things,' Morwenna said defiantly, 'I'll go wherever I like.'
Aware Morwenna was being deliberately confrontational, Nessa said placatingly to Goran, 'It was just as well you came along when you did, Pa wouldn't have been very happy if we'd got into trouble. We've just moved here from West Cornwall because he's been asked to open up a mine a little way along the edge of the moor from here.'
Startled by her news, Goran queried, 'Whereabouts?'
There were mines around the fringes of the moor, many mines, but they were well to the south of the Spurre Estate and the farms of Agnes Roach and Elworthy Coumbe. He knew little about any of them even though his father had been a miner who died in a mining accident. The mining and farming communities chose not to mix with each other.
Observing the sudden tightening of Morwenna's expression and trying to avoid another bad-tempered outburst from her, Goran added quickly, 'I know the area around here as well as anyone and could probably point out a spring that's closer to your home and more private than the one you were using today. There are quite a few of them coming off the moor, although some are no more than a trickle when there hasn't been much rain up there.'
'What you mean is you'll show us a place where you'll be able to watch us bathing without us seeing you,' Morwenna suggested spitefully.
'Please yourself. You can find your own place ... find your own way home too, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just trying to be helpful.'
'Take no notice of Morwenna: she's been an old misery-guts ever since we arrived here,' Nessa said, adding in explanation, 'She had a sweetheart down west and was hoping he'd ask her to marry him before we left.'
'He would have done,' Morwenna said, heatedly. 'I don't know why we had to leave there at all!'
'Pa explained that to us – and even promised to give Alan work if he wanted to come with us.'
Addressing Goran once more, Nessa explained, 'Alan was Morwenna's sweetheart, but we had to leave because the mine Pa was managing was almost played out and Alan didn't want to come with us. Mr Williams, the man who owned our mine, told Pa they'd found copper around this way and he'd bought mining rights for some parts of the moor. When Pa came to look around here a few weeks ago he found somewhere that looks promising this side of Hawkswood. A few of the miners Pa brought with him have put up a house for us nearby. It's not much of a place at the moment but Ma says she's lived in worse. If the mine comes good Pa's promised to have a really big house built for us, one where we can all have our own bedrooms.'
'You don't have to tell our life story to every stranger we meet up with,' Morwenna said, peevishly. 'We hardly know the first thing about him.'
Jennifer had been following the conversation and now she said unhappily, 'I don't want to sleep in a room on my own. I like us all sleeping in a bed together.'
'Well we won't have to worry about it for a long time yet,' Nessa said comfortingly. Turning back to Goran she said, 'Now you know where we live can you think of a place where we can bathe without being spied on?'
Excerpted from The Bonds of Earth by E.V. Thompson. Copyright © 2012 E.V. Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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