Authors: Yelena Kopylova
with a chain attached. His eyes now followed the chains up to where they were linked into a
hook at the top of the post that supported the stall.
From the hook his gaze now travelled to the lantern that was set on the floor near the feet of the
woman who was sitting on an upturned box.
He opened his mouth to yell again but the cry was strangled in his throat by blind, fear-filled
panic. He was chained up. She had chained him up. She was mad, a lunatic ! Nobody knew that
were here Dick. Where was Dick ? Dick. The name came like a
whimper from between his lips; then as he brought himself to his feet he swung round, grabbing
at the stanchion for support, and when he saw the boy lying still fast asleep in the straw he lay
back against the thick wooden partition, closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. She hadn’t
touched him, and this very fact added to her weirdness ; she might never have seen him, so
completely was she ignoring him.
Now he turned towards her and, gathering the* spittle into his mouth, he said, ”You can’t do this.
Unloose me, do you hear! Unloose me!” Even to himself his words sounded weak and inane and
he knew that they would have as much effect on her as a stick would have on an incoming wave.
”You brought it on yourself.”
”You can’t keep me here.”
”Oh, yes I can. God has pointed the way with this.” She stooped to the side and picked the book
off the floor, and when she held it out towards him he recognized it as a Bible. ”You swear on
this that you’ll not leave me. Take a deep solemn oath on it telling God that evil will befall you
should you break your word. Then I will release you, and I promise I’ll look after you well, I’ll
even let you into the house. Now that is something, that is really something when I say I’ll let
you into my house, because it was all prepared for Arthur.”
She paused now as if waiting for him to ask her a question, but he didn’t speak or move, he just
stood leaning against the partition, and she went on, ”You see, Arthur was in the war, he was a
hero. They objected to us marrying. They said he wasn’t my class but that didn’t matter, we
loved each other and we were to be married. I had everything ready, they’re still ready, all lying
in the drawer. They said he was missing. Missing, they said, but I know right in here” - she beat
twice on her chest with her fist before going on - ”he’ll come back. Loss of memory, that’s what
happened to him. So you see” - she now nodded towards him - ”until he does, I must have help. I
must get the land tidied up; the inside is ready but I can’t do the outside alone. And so I prayed to God. I’ve prayed for such a long time; and when you came in the gate and said your name was
Abel I knew He had answered my prayers. . . . Now you understand ? ... see” - she again held out
the book to him, open now - ”Luke, Chapter Eleven, verse nine. ’And I say unto you, Ask, and it
shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
” Tor every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it
shall be opened.’
”You see I knocked on God’s door and He opened it to me and listened to my prayer. Now I’m
going to give you time to think. I’m going to get you some breakfast and when I come back you
will do as I ask, won’t you ?”
Do as she asked ? He’d swear anything to get out of this, anything.
As she stared at him he made a downward movement with his head and she said, ”Very well” ;
then picking up the lantern she went out.
He waited until he heard her steps fading away across the yard before he turned and cried under
his breath, ”Dick! Dick! do you hear me ? Get up ! Get up ! Do you hear ?”
When there was no movement or sound from the straw he reached out towards it but his hand fell
short by a yard of the boy’s feet.
Stooping down, he gathered up some loose straw from the floor and swiftly kneaded it into a ball,
then threw it full at his son’s face.
”Oh! Oh! Dad! Dad! Something . . . something hit me. Ooh!”
”Wake up! Do you hear me? Wake up! Get on your feet, quickly!”
”Where are you, Dad? It’s dark!”
”What’s the matter? Are you bad?”
”Listen, son. Here, let me shake you awake.” He took the boy by the shoulders and shook him
vigorously, then said, ”Did you hear that clanging ?”
”Aye. Yes, Dad. What is it?” ’ : - ;-
”She’s got me chained up.” . ,’.••
”Wb . .. wh . . . what?”
”She’s clean mad, she’s a lunatic. Now do as I tell you. Get out of here. Go as hard as your legs
can carry you back to the main road, stop the first person you see and tell him. Better still, if
there’s somebody in a car or a cart get him to go to the nearest village and bring the polis. You
”Go on then. The light’s breaking; you’ll see your way once you’re outside.” He pushed Dick
and when the chain clanged again he screwed up his face against the sound.
Once more he was leaning back against the partition. How had he got into this ? In the name of
God, what was happening to him ? All he had ever wanted to do was to lead a quiet, decent life.
It didn’t matter about being happy. He had never been happy - not until he met Alice. Yet it was
since meeting Alice that evil seemed
to have befallen him. This latest business, this was etàl at its worst. He was brought abruptly
from his thinking by the sound of hurrying footsteps, then the light flooding the barn again, and
there she was, lantern in one hand and Dick held by the collar in the other.
Stopping a few yards from him, she pushed the boy forward and he fell on his knees on to the
stone floor, and she stared down on him for a moment before turning her attention to Abel,
saying, ”You’re stupid, you know that ? I expected that’s what you’d do. I’m up to any trick you
can think of, just remember that. Now if you tell him to go out of this barn again I’ll lock him up
in the house.”
As she stared at him through the lantern light he had the impression that at this moment she was
perfectly sane. Her voice was full of authority, her manner was brisk, and so he appealed to her
as if she were sane, saying now, ”Look; let’s get this straight. Unloosen me and we’ll talk. I’ll
talk to you; I’ll meet your demands. I promise I’ll stay for a week or so until your place is
straight. I promise.”
She now put her head on one side as she gazed at him before saying, ”Well, that’s more like it.
You’ve come to your senses. We’ll talk again after breakfast, or perhaps after dinner; or again it
might be good for you to taste restriction for a day or so. We’ll see about it. I’m going to give
you plenty of time to think before you swear your oath, because once your oath is sworn
It. . . is
The sweat was dripping from his chin as he stared back into her long white face and the panic
that was already in him was increasing with a swiftness that was threatening to choke him. She
could keep him here for days . . . for weeks ! She needn’t let anyone past that gate. Oh my God !
He moved his head as if looking for some implement on which to lay his hands ; but there was
nothing on the floor except straw and the sacks he had discarded yesterday and their rucksacks
lying against the far wall. •
His lips moving soundlessly, he stared at her again, and she turned from him and went hastily out
through the barn door.
He started when Dick, coming from behind, touched him on the hip and in a voice that was a
whimper, said, ”Oh, Dad!”
Taking hold of the boy’s hand he gripped it and, his own voice trembling, he said now, ”Don’t be
frightened; it’ll only be for a
short time. Something will happen, someone will come. Someone’s got to come.” ,
”If... if I had a stick I could hit her from behind.”
Abel peered downwards into his son’s face which he could just make out now against the coming
dawn and he said, his words almost tumbling over each other, ”L . . . Look around, yon end of
the barn, everywhere. See . . . see if you can find a stick or ... or a piece of wood. Go on. Go on, look around.” He had hold of Dick’s shoulder and went to push him forward, but stopped,
saying, ”I know it’s not light enough to see properly yet, but grope. Go on grope.” And he gave
the boy such a push he almost fell on to his face.
After some minutes of listening to the boy moving about he hissed impatiently, ”Haven’t you
found anything yet ?”
”Oh my God! If only -” He tugged viciously at the chains; then stopped as Dick’s voice came to
him, saying, ”I’ve got this, Dad.”
”What is it?”
Dick was standing close to him now holding out a three foot rusted iron rod with three hooks on
”It’s a scraper. Good boy. Good boy.”
”What are you going to do with it, Dad ?”
”I don’t know. . . . Yes, I do. I’m going to use it on her. I’ll lash out at her legs. Now listen. When
. . . when she brings the food in I’ll reach out with it and swing it like this.” He demonstrated.
”Now if I miss her, I’ll throw it to you. You’ll likely have time to pick it up because she’ll be
staggered for a minute or so, and then you hit out at her legs with it. Just hit out at her legs, mind.
Bring her down. Then it will all depend on where she falls and how bad she is. But you might
have to drag her towards me so I can search for the keys. Now stand over there near that
stanchion. Be on the alert; keep your wits about you. Do you think you can do it ?”
The boy swallowed, blinked, swallowed again, then said, ”Aye, Dad, aye. If you don’t manage to
hit her I’ve got to hit her across the legs.” ,,,
”Aye; just hit her across the legs. ...” - • . ., ,t
•*^-rrv?*##r’f>7^*^r/’iir>-”svTp’-’~i • ’
The light lifted and they could see about thenr’now, but for the most part they kept, their eyes on
the open barn door; and the minutes seemed to stretch into hours as they waited.
When eventually Abel heard her footsteps on the cobbles his own knees became weak and his
hands trembled. He knew that when he flung this iron rod at her and it made contact it would
injure her badly; but it was either them or her and, as he kept telling himself, he was dealing with a mad woman.
The tray still held only breakfast for one, and he also noted something else. Her face had altered,
it was full of suspicion, it was as if she was aware of the rod gripped in his fist, for she put the tray down on the ground quite some distance from him and, motioning towards Dick, said
without looking at him, ”Come and take the tray.”
When the boy neither moved nor spoke, she said, ”You heard what I said, boy. Come and take
the tray and put it where your father can reach it.”
”What did you say ?” She now looked directly at him.
”No . . . o!” Even the syllable was split with his fear.
”Well then, it’ll have to remain where it is.” Yet as she spoke she pushed the tray a foot or so
nearer towards Abel, and he, reaching out with his manacled hand as if to touch it, suddenly
brought his other arm forward and threw the rod in a swirling movement full at her.
Her unearthly scream filled the barn and when her whole body left the ground and seemed to
hover in mid-air for a moment, Dick joined his voice to hers. It wasn’t until she lay twisted and
silent on the stones that Abel could find his voice and yell at his son, ”Shut up! Shut up! will
In the silence that followed he had no power left in him to direct the boy, it was as if the iron rod had stunned him too. Then he was brought to his senses by something that went beyond the
suggestion of her being stunned when Dick whimpered, ”Is . . . is she d ... dead, Dad?”
He gazed towards her. Dear God in heaven! she looked it. But the rod had only caught her on the
arm; she’d likely hit her head when she fell. His own voice now came out on a stammer. ”Go o ...
o ... over to her and 1 ... look in her pockets for the key.”
When Dick hesitated he exploded. His voice high, almost reaching a scream, he cried, ”Go on, do
as you’re told!”
As Dick approached the twisted form he fully expected her to spring from the ground and grab
him by the throat, and his fingers tentatively touched her coat three times before he could put his
hand into the pocket of it.
When he found the pocket empty he hastily withdrew his hand as if it had been bitten and,
turning towards his father, he muttered, ”There’s nothin’in it, Dad.”
”Try the other one.”
”She’s . . . she’s lying on it.”
”Well, turn her over!” Again Abel’s voice came as a shout. ”Straighten her legs and . . . and
she’ll roll on to her back.”
Fearfully the child pulled one heavy booted leg straight, then the other, and when the body
seemed to become alive as she rolled on to her back, he sprang away, crying, ”Oh, Dad! Dad!”
”Boy, listen to me.” Abel’s voice was very low now, but it held more command than when he
had bawled. ”If you don’t find the key that will unloosen these locks she might well die, an’ me
with her. You understand ?”
Dick understood nothing at this moment only his own fear, but he whimpered, ”What’ll I do