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Authors: Yelena Kopylova

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doctor laughed outright as he said, ”Oh yes, he certainly came back.” Then his laughter trailed

away and he added sadly, ”But poor Tilda, she has this house all spruced up. Morning, noon and

night she’s cleaning it; everything ready for his return. And so it’ll go on till the end. . . . Well now, you’ll want to get on your way, and if you’ll do me one last favour you’ll knock on the door

of the cottage where you met old Harry this morning and ask his wife to come up here as soon as

she can. Will you do that for me ?”

”Yes, gladly.”

”Now about money. What does she owe you ?”

”Well, she offered to give me a pound a week, but I -Couldn’t have stayed, not if it had been ten.

I worked a full day yesterday. Still, I got my meals.”

”And a big shock along with them.”

”You’re right there. Yes, you’re right there, sir.”

”Well now -” The doctor went to the dresser at the far side of the kitchen and, opening a drawer,

he took out a cash box and from it extracted two one-pound notes and, handing them to Abel,

said, ”Will that do?”

’Oh, more than enough. But I won’t refuse it, thank you all the same.”

”And here.” Again the doctor was dipping into the cash box, and now taking out half a crown he

handed it to Dick, saying, ”I’m sure you could make use of that.”



ta. Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

The doctor patted his head; then nodded towards the kitchen door and said, ”Go and get your

pack,” and as Dick obeyed him the doctor put his hand gently on Abel’s arm restraining him for a

moment, and when the boy was out of earshot, he said, ”Are you aiming to settle somewhere

before the winter?” ”Oh, yes, certainly, sir.”

”Good, good. The child doesn’t look over robust, and he’s small for his age. You said he was

what, seven ?”

”Yes, coming up eight. But he’s never ailed anything, he’s wiry.”

”Yes, well, in the long run it’s the wiry ones who turn out to be .^WV* the toughest, but I’d

get shelter if I were you before the bad weather sets in.”

”I mean to do that, sir, definitely.”

”Good-bye then, and good luck. And thank you for being such a help back there.” He nodded

towards the sitting-room.

”Thank you, sir, I never thought it would end so ... so peaceably ”

They were once more walking out of the gate and as they strode the same path along which he

had scudded in fear only an hour or so earlier he thought to himself, By! it’s a strange world.

There was one thing to be said about the road, you did see life. But then he wouldn’t choose to

see too much of the life he had seen in the last few days.

Dick now broke into his thoughts saying, ”Why did you say our name was Gray, Dad ?”

Abel looked down on the boy and paused before he answered, ”Well, I said I was from Hastings

and he said he knew it well, so what was to stop him from enquiring about me should he ever go

back there? It’s a small world, you know, and news could just seep through to her . . . your

mother. It might sound improbable like but such things do happen. . . . You don’t want to go

back, do you ?”

”Oh no ! Dad. And Gray’s a nice name.”

”It was your grandma’s maiden name.”

”Was it?” ”



The knowledge seemed to please the boy and, looking up at


Abel, he now said, ”He gave me a full half-crown, Dad. But I won’t spend it, I’ll save it.”

Abel looked down on his son steadily for a moment, thinking, he could have added, ”for a rainy

day”, and the doctor’s words came back to him ”He doesn’t look over robust and he’s small for

his age. Get into some place for the winter.” . . . Get them into some place before the winter ?

But what if he couldn’t ? What then, the workhouse ?

He shook his head at the thought and his step quickened.

What did one do under circumstances like these? Pray? Pray that something might turn up ?

Everybody on the road was praying for something to turn up; he would have to aim his prayer

higher and ask for a miracle.


«^ftT-wiM** •



The Miracle


Another eleven days had passed since they left Leeds and for the last five it had rained almost

incessantly. They had been soaked to the skin and for three nights had slept wet. Abel was

experiencing a new misery, one that was now bordering on despair. There were two avenues

open to him; the first, to go into the workhouse and stay there for the winter. Were he to do so he

knew he would be separated from the boy, but the child would be assured of shelter and of some

form of education. The alternative was to make for North Shields where lived his half-cousin,

John Pratt. The snag here was that Lena also had relatives living there, and once she knew of his

presence there she would come scurrying across country and, to put it in her own words, claim

her rights as a wife, which simply meant someone to work for her.

Well, were he to choose the latter course he might as well have not left the South at all; and so it was Hexham and the workhouse. Hexham he reckoned was far enough away from North Shields

to preclude any fears of his being recognized.

He knew that the country they were passing through would have appeared beautiful had the

weather been different. It was odd the effect the weather had on people, but they certainly

seemed less inclined to be kind when it was wet. He’d had to knock on the back door of four

houses in Piercebridge before he was given a can of boiling water to make some tea. Yet in the

fourth house the woman had given him not only hot water but also a couple of meat sandwiches,

half a loaf, and a dab of butter. And in the village of West Auckland they had been given a bowl

of broth each and tuppence. He was glad of that tuppence and he had thanked the woman

warmly, at the same time remembering how scornfully he had handed the penny back to the girl

on the boat.

But now they were into the heart of the country, walking




through great lonely stretches, hills with their summits Bst in the rain clouds, everything under

foot sodden, and where the fields ran level they were entirely covered with water.

They had just passed Scales Cross and were making for Riding Mill. How far Hexham lay from

there he wasn’t quite sure, eight, ten miles ; well, however long or short they wouldn’t make it

today for within another couple of hours it would be dark and he’d have to find an outhouse or a

byre of some kind in which to bed down, for the boy was on his last legs. After leaving Leeds the

lad had perked up considerably, mostly from relief at being rid of the mad woman, he thought,

but for days now he had spoken only occasionally, and his silences told Abel of his feelings more

plainly •V» than if he had whined all the way.

The squelching of his feet inside his boots seemed to get louder with each step, and when he

espied a piece of woodland lying to the right ahead of him he looked back at the boy who was

some steps behind him and said, ”We’ll go in yonder and have a rest, eh?”

Dick did not say, as he had done confidently during the first days of the adventure, ”Yes, Dad,”

he merely made a small downward motion with his head, so slight that it couldn’t be called a


As they neared the belt of trees Abel peered through the rain towards a dark object standing by

the side of the road. Rubbing the water from his eyes he made it out to be, a motor-car, a black

motor-car. That was why at first he hadn’t been able to distinguish what it was. When they came

abreast of the car he turned his glance towards it and saw a man sitting in the driving seat. He

was leaning back as if resting, and when he lifted his hand as if in salute, after a moment’s

hesitation, Abel returned the salute with the same gesture.

They were past the car when the man’s voice stopped them and Abel turned round and looked to

where the driver was hanging out of the window seemingly gasping for breath, and what he was

saying again and again was, ”Help! Help! Help!”

When Abel reached him he bent down and said, ”Are you all right, sir?’

”111.” The man closed his eyes and gasped and again repeated, ”111.” And now his doubled fist

was pressed against the front of his jacket., ,,.,,. ,%


Abel looked up and down the roa3 helplessly, then said, ”Can . . . can I help you? What is it?”

”Drive ? You drive ?”

”Not. . . not a motor-car, sir, not like this. Dtsven a tractor and a lorry, but... but a long time ago.”

”Please. Please drive.”
’’. •

”But, sir.” -

”Get... get me home, please.”

”Where do you live, sir?” •

”Fell . . . Fellburn.”

”Fellburn ?” He screwed up his face. Fellburn was miles away, near Gateshead. ”I ... I could go

and find a farm and get you help, sir.”

The man shook his head.

Abel looked down at Dick in bewilderment. Then as if coming to a sudden decision he reached

out, opened the back door of the car, then stooped and lifted the boy bodily in. Pulling off his

own rucksack that was dripping with water, he flung it on to the floor, banged the door, then

opened the driver’s door. Gently, he eased the man from his seat and helped, almost carried him

round the bonnet and put him in the front passenger seat, then took his own seat behind the


The man was lying back, his eyes closed, his fist pressed again tight into his chest and he seemed

to be fighting for every breath.

Abel bit on his lip. How in heavens did he start the thing ? Of course, the handle. There it was

lying between the two seats. He jumped out of the car again, went to the bonnet, plugged in the

starting handle, and swung it a number of times but with no positive result. He seemed to have no

strength in his arms, yet two months ago he could have felled a sapling with a couple of blows.

Now as if he was attacking an enemy he gripped the handle again and, putting all his strength

behind it, he forced it round, and when the car shuddered into action he, too, was gasping for


The man looked at him as he entered the car again, and pointing to the gear box he said, ”Start

her. Start her.”

There was a grinding sound and the car seemed to jump off the verge right into the middle of the

road, and then was moving down it, dead centre.

It took them ten minutes to reach Riding Mill and as they entered the village Abel shouted to the

man without taking his



eyes off the road, ”Wouldn’t it be better if I stopped, sir, andfou

saw a doctor?” . I

”No, just. . . just drive on.” I

”But. . . but which way ? I don’t know the road.” ”Turn . . . turn right next corner and . . . and

make for Newcastle. I’ll . . . I’ll tell you when . . . when to turn off. . . . Go through Whickham

and skirt Gateshead.”

There was very little traffic on the road. He passed a few vehicles, or at least they passed him: a

few buses, three vans, and not more than half a dozen motor-cars. It was as if the rain was

keeping indoors all the vehicles too, and for this he was mighty thankful. Yet as he sat behind the

wheel, his hands gripping it, his body tense, he could not help but think how fantastic it was : he

had been making for the workhouse and now here he was driving in this car. A touch of wry

humour came into his thinking. It would be odd, he thought, if, after depositing the owner at his

home, they were, by way of thanks, driven to the workhouse, Gateshead workhouse now, in a


Having by-passed Gateshead and Low Fell without incident, they were leaving the countryside

and entering the outskirts of Fellburn when he spoke again. ”Is it right in the town . . . your

house, sir?”

”No, quite near. Past . . . past next house, open yard.” Abel drove slowly past what looked from a

sharp glance to the left of him like a big house standing in the middle of a large garden, then a

narrow strip of paddock, and here was the yard as the man had said, an open yard. There was an

iron framework all of ten feet high and fifteen feet wide and, swinging from the top bar, was a

board on which was written: ”Cycles bought, sold, repaired, and for hire. Proprietor, Peter


Not previously having had to stop he now fumbled at the gears and was able to bring the car to a

halt only a yard from the house wall. As he lay back for a second and drew in a deep breath the

back door of the house was opened and a young woman ran into the yard and, coming to the car,

she looked in and exclaimed in some amazement, ”Oh, my goodness!”

”He ... he had a bad turn, miss. He ... he asked me to bring him home.”

”Very good. Very good of him. . . . Very good. ”The man now leaned forward in an attempt to

get out of the car, and the young


woman said, ”Help me with him, will you?”

Abel hurried from his seat and round to the other side, and there he said, ”Leave him to me; I’ll

get him in.”

The man was small, thin, and his body was light. Abel could, if he had been up to his usual

strength, have carried him in. And he almost did. Pulling the man’s right arm round his neck and

with his left forearm under the man’s left oxter, he half carried him.

BOOK: A man who cried
6.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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