|Publisher:||Hale, Robert Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)|
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Kicking Over the Traces
By Elizabeth Jackson
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2015 Elizabeth Jackson
All rights reserved.
The wintry sunset cast an eerie light over the little Norman church and the handful of mourners standing on the bleak hillside by the open grave.
'We therefore commit her body to the ground ... earth to earth ... ashes to ashes ... dust to dust ...' the priest droned. He glanced across at the girl and was instantly touched by the rawness and beauty of her grief-stricken face. Her hair was as black as a raven's wing, caught loosely in a ribbon of black lace at the nape of her neck, and her sapphire–blue eyes brimmed with unshed tears as they followed the coffin.
Florence Grainger shuddered as her mother's coffin was lowered into the dark earth. Her father roughly yanked her hand and deposited a cold clod of wet soil into it. She looked into his face for a trace of comfort; it afforded none. She crushed the cold sticky earth between her fingers before throwing it into the gaping hole. It landed with a heavy thud on the coffin lid concealing the brass lettering: Esme Grainger 1884-1922.
Florence's mother, Esme Grainger, had celebrated her thirty-eighth birthday barely a month ago whilst attending Yarm Gypsy Fair. They had been travelling north intending to camp within striking distance of Appleby in Westmorland for the ensuing winter months. And it was then that Esme fell dreadfully ill. She died quite unexpectedly in the rear of the bow-top wagon just prior to reaching the nearby village of Stoneygill in whose graveyard she now lay buried.
Blood poisoning, the doctor said: septicaemia, due to a small cut on her hand that had somehow become infected. Esme had developed a temperature and a high fever. Her daughter and husband suggested she rest in the back of the wagon for a few hours. But when they halted their journey to rest and water the horses, Florence looked in the back of the wagon to check on her mother to discover she had died.
I'm so sorry, Mother, Florence mouthed silently, to leave you here ... in this strange and lonely place. But I'll come back ... and visit you ... I promise, she vowed, gazing up to the heavens.
She felt the touch of a hand on her shoulder and turned to find the priest was standing close behind her.
'What will you do now, my dear?' he enquired. His voice was soft and full of concern; the warmth in his eyes gave her a measure of welcome comfort.
'I ... I'm not sure what I'll do,' Florence replied hesitantly.
'Will you come back to the parsonage and have a bite to eat, please? My wife will be glad to —'
'Thank yer kindly for givin' my missus a decent burial – and for your invitation,' Benny Grainger interrupted. He then handed a thin roll of notes to the priest. 'Me and my daughter have a fair way to go and it'll be dark soon. C'mon, let's away, Florence,' he said sharply.
The priest stood watching until the bow-top wagon disappeared down the road and out of view. There was something about the girl that he couldn't quite put his finger on; something that had stirred an exaggerated concern in him. But it was too late now – they'd left. And there was no way her father was going to hang around. The priest tried to shake off the uncomfortable feeling the man had imposed on him; and shivering, he headed back to the warm cosiness of the parsonage as the first snow of winter settled on the footpath.
And, unbeknownst to Florence, she would be included in his prayers that night.
'Look sharp an' take them over to t'barn!' Benny Grainger growled impatiently. 'I'll go and see if it's all right for us to stay here the night.'
Florence jumped down from the wagon and led the horse into the barn and waited for her father's return. They had arrived only just in time for the snow was coming down thick and fast and blowing across the moor, causing deep drifts; the road they'd driven along was no longer visible.
Florence placed her hands on the warm chest of the horse and buried her head in his neck. 'It's all right, Ginger Dick, I'll soon have you fed and watered, lad,' she said, hugging him.
'What d'yer think you're doing!' her father bawled. 'I thought I told you to get that bloody horse seen to! Are you bloody deaf?'
She hadn't heard his approach and the flat of his hand struck her sharply across the back of her head, causing her to stumble. The pain was blinding, but she swiftly regained her balance and spun round to face him.
'Your mother's not around now to protect you. Yer an idle git an' you'll do as yer told from now on; an' I don't give me orders twice! Understand?'
His cold eyes blazed down into hers, and Florence, too stunned to reply, started work on Ginger Dick immediately. She relieved him of the heavy wet harness and quickly making a straw wisp she proceeded to rub him down briskly. Father's never liked me, she thought, tears flooding her eyes. What on earth will I do without Mother here? He'll be hell to live with. Well, he's not going to beat me, she resolved in that moment. I'll leave first. I'm a good worker, 'specially with the horses. And since the war things have changed ... maybe not so much in the travelling community ... but women are doing men's work on farms and suchlike.
After Florence finished grooming Ginger Dick, she took the empty water-jack to fill at the pump in the farmyard. It was five in the evening and it had stopped snowing and the sky had cleared, allowing a full moon to emerge which lit up a snow-covered landscape. She turned up the collar of her worn tweed coat and trudged through deep snow to where the pump was located. She looked up suddenly when the back door of the farmhouse was flung open and a woman scurried out carrying a pail and hurried over to the pump. Florence instantly relieved the woman of the empty pail and began to fill it for her.
'Thank yer kindly, girl,' the woman said, pulling a battered ex-army greatcoat tightly round her. 'Come on in and have a cuppa and get thissen warm, lass, I've got a grand fire goin' in the kitchen.'
Florence hesitated for a moment, but the thought of a warm fire and a cup of tea were too much to resist. 'Thanks, that'd be most welcome,' she said. Then setting down the water-jack, Florence picked up the other woman's pail of water and carried it back to the house.
A blazing fire crackled in the grate of a shiny black-leaded range. The woman gestured one of the spindle-back chairs at the fireside to Florence before disappearing into the scullery. The woman returned carrying a plate of buttered tea loaf. She then poured tea from a teapot resting on the range before sitting down opposite her.
A log shifted in the grate, producing a shower of sparks which lit up the room.
'Thank you, missus, it tastes lovely,' Florence said, biting into the moist, sweet loaf plastered with butter, 'and thank you for letting us shelter in your barn.'
'Oh, that's no bother to us. Now, tell me, lass, how on earth do you manage to get through these harsh winters?' she asked, frowning and shaking her head. 'It's hard enough here for me and my husband with a solid roof over our 'eads.'
'Aw, you get used it, missus,' Florence said, "specially when folks are kind – like yourselves.'
'And yer mother? I couldn't help notice there was only you ... and er, yer dad is it?'
'My mother died the other day. We ... we buried her ... this morning, at ... Stoneygill.' Florence's voice was thick with emotion and tears began to well in her eyes and clog in her throat.
Mary Dalby set her cup aside and reaching out took Florence's hand in her own. 'Ah, I'm sorry, lass, here.' She handed her a clean white handkerchief from her pinafore pocket. 'What's yer name? I can't keep calling you lass.'
'Florence Grainger,' Florence snuffled, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose.
'And I'm Mary Dalby. So you can call me Mary, and me 'usband's name's Arthur. He's just feeding up and shouldn't be too long. Stay and have a bit o' tea with us, love, eh? You'd be more than welcome.'
'No, no I can't. My dad will be wondering where I've got to and er ... sometimes he can get a bit angry.'
Aye, I bet he can, thought Mary. On meeting him she'd concluded he was a mean-looking man; and had she not seen Florence at the side of him when they drove into the yard, looking pale and tired, she'd have told him to keep moving. She and Arthur hadn't any children, unfortunately, but they'd been happy through the last twenty years. Glancing across at Florence, Mary couldn't help but wonder how that man had managed to father such a pretty daughter and assumed the girl's mother must have been a very beautiful woman.
'Here, take the rest of this loaf with you. I've got more in the larder,' Mary said, wrapping the remainder of the tea loaf in greaseproof paper.
'You're very kind, missus, thank you again.'
'Think nowt of it, lass, I mean, Florence. My, but it's a pretty name, Florence, it suits you.' Mary smiled at her. 'Now there's no need to be rushing off in this bad weather, love. Tell yer dad, I said it'll be all right for you to stay on a while; if you want to, that is.'
'I'd like that very much, thank you,' Florence said, beaming with delight at the prospect of spending a few days here. 'And in return I can help you if you like. I can turn me hand to most things; cooking, cleaning, washing ...'
'You just come over in the morning,' Mary said, interrupting her and gently patting her arm, 'an' I'll find something for you to do. Be nice to have a bit of female company about the place; it can get lonely in these parts, particularly during the long hard winters we get up here .... Aye, I'll see you in the morning, Florence. Fetch that handkerchief back with you and I'll have a clean 'un for you.'
Florence's spirit soared with delight as she made her way back to the barn. She liked Mary Dalby and it would be nice to spend a few hours in that nice warm house every day, away from him!
Benny Grainger eyed Florence suspiciously as she entered the wagon.
'Took yer bloody long enough to get some water!' he snapped, 'an' what's that yer've got there?' he yelled, snatching the tea loaf out of her hands. 'Ah, good ... so you've got friendly with the farmer's wife, eh? Now that could be useful. What's she say? Does she want us gone in the mornin'?'
'No, Dad. She said we could stay. And I can help her in the house in return for us stopping here.'
'Not gonna pay yer anything for working? Bah, bloody cheek of some folk – typical bloody gorgios taking advantage of us gypsies ... thinking we 'ave to be grateful for any crumb they toss our way ...'
'Well, at least we've got somewhere to stay through this bad weather and I don't mind helping her out in the house – honest I don't. Please, let's stay here. It'll be Christmas soon.'
'Get summat cooked for me tea! Never mind harpin' on about bloody Christmas!' he snarled. 'And I decide how long we're staying 'ere for.'
'What's the matter with you, Dad? What's wrong?' Florence pleaded. She was fed up with his shouting and bullying. He'd changed: the coolness he'd always displayed towards her in the past, had, these last few days, deteriorated into extreme, downright cruelty. 'You've been nasty to me ever since Mother passed away and it's not my fault she's dead!'
'Well, now she's gone I don't have to pretend to like yer any more, do I?' His voice was low and menacing. 'Cos I don't like you ... and I never have – it's all been a bloody sham, and when the time comes to leave here – I'll be leaving on my own.'
Florence gasped aloud hardly able to believe her ears.
'Aye, that's shocked yer, hasn't it?' A grim smile creased the corners of his mouth.
'W-what about me ... Dad, d ... don't you care?' Her voice held a tremor and was a mere whisper as she struggled to take in what he was saying. He didn't want her with him ... Her own father didn't want her!
'Dad? Hah! You can stop calling me Dad now your mother's dead. Cos I'm not yer father. Yer mother was carryin' you in her belly when I married her! That's why she married me; cos no bugger else would 'ave her. 'Ad a fling with some gorgio, she did, at Topcliffe Fair.'
Benny Grainger raised his head, his eyes examining her carefully; he was enjoying the pain which was evident in her face. 'Yer ill-gotten whatever yer breeding – an' it's no bloody concern of mine.'
'What?' Florence felt physically winded and her hand shot up to her mouth to stem the sharp pain shooting through her. Her eyes were wide with horror and as she stared in disbelief at this cruel man before her a chill began to steal over her. What an ugly nasty man he was, she thought; it was as though she was seeing him for the very first time. He had small pinched features, and his nose and cheeks were reddened by a network of fine broken veins. And then with a sudden realization of this truth, she thanked God it wasn't his blood coursing through her veins. Then lowering her hand from her mouth, Florence started to laugh; quietly at first, but it wasn't long before her whole body began to shake with laughter.
'You think it's funny, do yer, your mother being nowt but a whore?' Florence's laughing ceased. She looked into the face of the vile being standing in front of her and saw a complete stranger; a callous man whom she detested and wanted no connection with ever again for as long as she breathed the breath of life.
He would be easy to forget. The sooner he was gone the better.
Garrett Ferrensby looked out from the drawing-room window across to the snow-whitened moorland, illuminated by a full moon in a darkening sky. A log shifted in the grate, disturbing the Great Dane which slept peacefully on the rug by the hearth. He jerked his head and looked from the fire to his master. Garrett picked up a long iron poker and leaning forwards pushed the log back into the flames.
There was a tap on the door and a young girl entered the room.
'Mrs Baxter says I've to see if yer want the fire buildin' up an' the lamp lighting, sir?' she said. The girl's thick Yorkshire accent belied her refined features; there was nothing delicate about the folk born and raised on Hamer Moor; they were as tough as the sheep that roamed the moor and could withstand whatever hardships life threw their way.
'No, I do not want the fire building up and I'm quite capable of lighting a lamp. Now you can go back and tell Mrs Baxter that I am not completely useless!'
The girl was no longer taken aback by her master's rudeness. She nodded, turned, and hurried from the room. The dog opened his eyes at the sound of his master's harsh tone and, seeing that this was not directed at him, he discharged a contented groan before slowly letting his eyelids fall closed again.
Garrett struggled to his feet with the aid of a walking stick and prodded the dog. 'Move, move Bruno!' he griped. Bruno clambered to his feet and stretched before retreating to a safer distance on the other side of the fireplace. Garrett hobbled across the room with difficulty and lit the oil lamp. Then, grimacing, he made his way back and crumpled wearily into the chair.
The door opened with a simultaneous knock. Ivy Baxter blustered into the room. She stood before him with her hands on her hips. Garrett stiffened and waited. His housekeeper was not only beginning to get on his nerves, but getting out of hand and forgetting her station since his return from the war.
'Are you wanting rid of all my staff?' she demanded, 'Because if you are you're going the right way about it!'
'Don't you talk to me in that manner! How dare you?'
Ivy Baxter ignored his counter-blast. 'I'll tell you how I dare, sir, cos no bugger's going to come and work up here in the middle of nowhere if you keep shouting at them and biting their heads off. Your dinner will be served in the dining room in fifteen minutes,' she concluded in a civil tone before marching from the room.
Excerpted from Kicking Over the Traces by Elizabeth Jackson. Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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