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Authors: Sheila Jeffries

The Boy with No Boots

BOOK: The Boy with No Boots
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THE BOY WITH
NO BOOTS

By the same author:

Solomon’s Tale

Solomon’s Kitten

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Sheila Jeffries, 2015

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Sheila Jeffries to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

www.simonandschuster.co.uk

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-47113-765-5
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-47113-766-2

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh

Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Goup (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

To my two stars, Pete and Jade, in memory of ‘Grandad’

Contents

Chapter One: THE TREACLE JAR

Chapter Two: LIES

Chapter Three: BROKEN CHINA

Chapter Four: GRANNY BARCUSSY

Chapter Five: A RED RIBBON

Chapter Six: ‘SHADES OF THE PRISON-HOUSE’

Chapter Seven: THE GOLDEN BIRD

Chapter Eight: PLAYING TRUANT

Chapter Nine: THE BONDING

Chapter Ten: THE LONELINESS OF BEING DIFFERENT

Chapter Eleven: HE WHO DARES

Chapter Twelve: FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES

Chapter Thirteen: THE ‘BEE-LOUD GLADE’

Chapter Fourteen: THE STONE GATEPOST

Chapter Fifteen: THE WATER IS WIDE

Chapter Sixteen: LITTLE BLUE LETTERS

Chapter Seventeen: THE ROAD TO LYNESEND

Chapter Eighteen: FLOATING

Chapter Nineteen: THE TURN OF THE TIDE

Chapter Twenty: TREAD SOFTLY

Chapter Twenty-One: TRUSTING THE DREAM

Chapter Twenty-Two: ONE YEAR LATER

A Note From the Author

Acknowledgements

Chapter One
THE TREACLE JAR

Annie waited at her garden gate, an earthenware jar clutched in her swollen red hands. If she stared deep into the landscape, she sometimes glimpsed the shine of Freddie’s
hair as he bobbed along the lane below the tall elm trees. Her face was hot with anxiety. Under the stained apron, Annie’s heart was dark with guilt. A woman of your age, Annie. Dependent on
a seven-year-old child! But that’s what she was. And only Freddie knew why.

Freddie had rescued her when she’d been clinging to the railings outside the Post Office, too terrified to move. He’d led her home on her stone feet, plod by plod, and stilled her
trembling with his bright unwavering gaze.

On that October afternoon, Freddie’s footsteps were slower and slower as he trudged home from school. His face was purple, half of it a bruise from where Mr Price had thrown a book at him
for daydreaming, and the other half a brighter purple from the blackberries he’d been eating. His four pockets bulged with wet beechnuts, and he smelled of autumn. Blisters scorched his small
feet from walking a mile to school and a mile home in a pair of wooden clogs.

‘Don’t you dare take them off,’ Annie had warned.

‘No, Mother.’

‘If you do, then you take your socks off, too, and walk barefoot, and I’m not darning them, Freddie. Understand?’

‘Yes, Mother.’

He dreaded being given the job of darning his own socks with the long bodkin threaded with scratchy grey wool, the smooth wooden darning egg, and the hours of misery, weaving and picking and
unpicking, and being scolded as he worked in the square of light from the cottage window.

Freddie paused in the lane. He didn’t want to go home. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see his mother. It was what she would make him do.

The west wind was swishing the elm trees, their oval leaves flickering through the blue air to assemble in thick drifts that filled the lane with gold. Freddie sighed. If only he could paint it.
What he longed for most was a paintbox and a brush, but where would he get paper? Tonight he had to do his homework on lavatory paper, a roll of thin tracing paper, shiny one side and dull on the
other.

He sat down in his favourite gateway, sinking into the inviting toastiness of fallen leaves. He scruffed them up with his small hands, covering his knees until he had completely buried his legs.
Like a Babe in the Wood, an afternoon babe. Perhaps he would nod off to sleep in the drowsy sunshine. Freddie leaned back against the elm trunk and studied the colours on the wooden gate, a glaze
of lime green, little hoops of silver, burning blotches of mustard-coloured lichen. This hot and textured colour framed the Somerset landscape with its lines of pollarded willows notating the
fields like a page of music dip-dyed in the mystic blue of the Mendip Hills.

Freddie decided to eat ten of his precious beechnuts to fill the ache in his stomach. He counted them out carefully, laying them in a line along the lower bar of the gate. Then he peeled them,
the brittle cases gleaming auburn in the sun, and cupped the tiny triangular nuts in his hand. He put them into his mouth all at once. That way they tasted nuttier and made more of a mouthful.
Freddie liked autumn. He liked the mellow sun and the apple orchards, and the morning puddles curled with interesting ice. Autumn was full of ripe berries and hazelnuts. One morning Freddie had
found a mushroom the size of a dinner plate growing in the field. Annie had fried it in goose fat and seven of them had feasted on it.

He sat for longer than it took to eat the ten beechnuts, licking the crumbs from his teeth, and picking ‘old man’s beard’ from the hedge. His blue inquisitive eyes stared into
its tendrils, wondering at the wisps of fluff protecting the clustered dark seeds. He picked a rose hip and twirled its leathery scarlet fruit thoughtfully between his finger and thumb. He noticed
that its black top was a perfect pentagon, and Mr Price had drawn a pentagon on the blackboard that day for them to copy on their slates.

‘Like a haystack,’ he’d said. ‘A pentagon. Like a haystack.’ That was before he threw the Palgrave’s
Golden Treasury
at Freddie’s head.

‘Stupid boy – daydreaming again! Is that how you’re going to live your life?’

The bruise ached and his eye hurt when he blinked. The longer he sat buried in the golden elm leaves, the drowsier Freddie became. The bees buzzed deeper, and the starlings began their four
o’clock twittering, filling the half-bare poplars with a black rippling as if someone had scattered them into the light. Freddie listened, and through the mosaic of the starlings’ song,
he could hear Annie calling him.

‘Freddie! Fred!’

A little wind-blown voice from such a huge woman, the cry was a blend of anger and genuine desperate need. Freddie sighed and shoved his feet into the hated clogs.

‘Coming.’

He clumped down the lane, hearing the church clock striking four. Why was he late? He could see the cottage now with its sagging thatch. He heard the chickens muttering and smelled the coke
oven. Tiredness draped its threadbare cloak over his small shoulder blades. He longed to go inside and creep to the brown corner by the window and read his brown book, and disappear into the brown
comfort of home.

But his mother was there, as he knew she would be, standing at the wicket gate, brandishing the dreaded jar. She was like the earthenware jar, solid as fired clay, but old, the glaze cracked,
the smile chipped, the knowledge gone stale inside. In that moment, Freddie felt glad he had a mother to soak up his tiredness. He leaned on her, his cheek against the heavy damp apron, which
smelled of cheese. He could sometimes make her be a proper mother, even when she didn’t want to be. He made cracks in her earthenware armour.

She pushed him away.

‘Get on down the shop,’ she said. ‘They’ve got some treacle.’

‘I want a drink.’ Freddie turned on the garden tap and guzzled the cold bright water.

‘Hurry up. The queue will be long. Don’t come back until you’ve got some.’

It was no use appealing. Freddie digested Annie’s expression as he took the jar with both hands. He saw the frustration in her eyes. Then a spark, a frown of concern.

‘Freddie?’

‘Yes Mother.’

‘What happened to your face?’

‘Mr Price threw a book at me.’

‘What for?’

‘Daydreaming.’

‘Serves you right. You go on now and get that treacle.’

Freddie turned and walked off as smartly as he could, his little back square with anger. Not again. Please not again, Mother. Every day I have to stand in that queue. Why me? I’m tired out
from school. I’m starving hungry. I get cold in the queue. Do I have to? Why can’t I have boots? Why is there a war? I didn’t want the war, did I?

The sunlight was lengthening bars of amber gold as Freddie reached the village. He walked past the blue-lias cottages with their scrubbed hamstone sills, past the church with its monster yew
tree covered in mistle thrushes squabbling over the berries. The street was full of leaves. Freddie could hear the queue even before he saw it, an aggrieved babbling. It was long, wrapped around
the market cross like a knobbly scarf, mostly women in long skirts and shawls, a few children. There was no playing, but only queuing, and shuffling forward.

Between shuffles, Freddie ate beechnuts, leaving a trail of husks behind him. He stood there frozen for what seemed like hours, but the church clock was striking five by the time he reached the
shop, terrified it would close and send him home shamefaced with an empty jar.

He could see the Hessian sacks on the floor of the shop, and the shadowed eyes of Mrs Borden as she ladled the gleaming sepia-dark treacle into people’s jars. She was reaching deeper and
deeper into the barrel, and counting the queue as she looked out of the shop. People were grumbling as they came away with less and less treacle. Freddie knew why his mother wanted it so much.
Black treacle was the only kind of sugar you could get in the 1914–18 war. She used it to sweeten the baking, and for making hot drinks, or for something to spread on the thick yellow
cornbread. It was as bitter as the cornbread was bland, but better than nothing. Freddie felt those words had been stamped on his head the day he was born. Better than nothing.

‘There’s just a spoonful left, Freddie.’ Mrs Borden looked at him with a face like a squashed apple. ‘It’s so difficult to judge it right, and you were last in the
queue.’

‘I can help you scrape it.’ Freddie leaned over to look in the barrel, his heart already pounding with anxiety about how to face his mother with nothing.

Mrs Borden handed him a wooden spatula and he reached into the barrel and scraped the dark streaks from the sides.

‘Don’t get it in your hair, dear. Such lovely blond hair you’ve got.’

Together they scraped the ladle, and the handle of the ladle, and around the lip of the barrel. Finally he had a pathetic dollop of treacle, which hardly covered the base of the earthenware
jar.

‘Better than nothing.’

‘Yes. Better than nothing, Freddie. Come earlier tomorrow, dear. We’ve got corn meal coming in.’

Freddie nodded. He couldn’t speak. Mrs Borden patted him on the shoulder with a hand deeply ingrained with dark treacle, and smiled at him kindly. He backed away in case he cried. It
seemed to Freddie that no one was allowed to cry because of the war. Everyone beamed stoically, especially the women.

His tiredness deepened as he trudged home, as if he dragged its cloak through heavy mud. The afternoon had darkened and the sky shone like the inside of a saucepan lid. Flocks of yellow hammers
fluttered along the hedges, and barn owls circled low across the fields, their plumage cream and silent.

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