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The Coffin Maker's Daughters Sweet Thunder

The Coffin Maker's Daughters Sweet Thunder

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The Coffin Maker's Daughters Sweet Thunder

Lunghezza:
417 pagine
6 ore
Pubblicato:
Nov 1, 2013
ISBN:
9781301683253
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Coffin Maker's daughters were all named after flowers: Lily, Violet, Daisy, May, Rose and Marigold. This is Daisy's story.The Wakefield farm is bleak, the inhabitants even bleaker. Jonas Wakefield, a religious bigot, has a wife on the brink of insanity and a simpleton for a son. Daisy Spencer's arrival to take up the position of housemaid has a devestating affect on all their lives.
Sweet Thunder follows the young girl from here to the warmth and magic of the Victorian Variety Theatre and back again.
It is a story of passions, love and hatred, jealousy and revenge, of courage and the resilience of the human spirit, reinforcing the belief of good over evil.

Pubblicato:
Nov 1, 2013
ISBN:
9781301683253
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Bunny Mitchell was a dancer before becoming a mother and later had a career as a cook. She made her home in Spain and America for several years before returning to England in 1998. She now lives in Sussex where she has grown to love the South Downs and the history of its people. Her novels encompass the folklores of the region and the colourful Sussex sayings that are in danger of dying out. She has three published novels (The Farthing Mark and A Magpie Mourning and Blind Bargain)and her fourth,Sweet Thunder, is soon to be released For many years Bunny Mitchell has encouraged and helped many to write their autobiographies. She founded the Bexhill Writers’ Forum in 2002 which she still runs.


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The Coffin Maker's Daughters Sweet Thunder - Bunny Mitchell

****

PROLOGUE

‘You’ll suffer the flames of hell for your wickedness,’ he told her. Every day he reminded her of her dreadful sin. ‘God will cast you down into the fiery furnace. On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and brimstone!’

With her husband’s words echoing in her mind, Clara Wakeford mounted the narrow stairs to the little room under the eaves. She had done all in her power to make amends, tried so hard to be a good wife, but nothing made any difference. He was determined to punish her, even now, after all these years. Sometimes she thought she detected a touch of madness in his composition, but at other moments she wondered about her own sanity; when the voices whispered, telling her what she must do.

She hesitated with her hand on the thumb-latch of the plain wooden door. Why was she so frightened to go inside? It would have to be cleaned before the girl arrived and there wasn’t so much to do. Jonas had cleared the room of its belongings years ago; burnt them in a pile behind the barn. She had watched the bonfire’s blue smoke rise like a dirty cloud into the sky.

But he couldn’t burn the memories. No, he could never take those precious memories away. She took a deep breath and before she could change her mind, pushed open the door.

It was empty now, save for the narrow bed with its horsehair mattress and a wooden chair, but as she stood in the open doorway she saw the room as it had once been. She didn’t smell the stale air or see where the rain had soaked through the roof to leave cloud-like stains on the sagging slope of the ceiling. She saw the books, a picture of the Queen, a coat hanging on the opposite wall and muslin curtains at the tiny casement window. How well she remembered their fluttering in the soft night air.

Clara, Clara, my own sweet love…. His voice came to her then, echoing down the years. Tilting her head back she closed her eyes and listened to the honey-sweet crooning, felt his fingers in her hair.

Outside, the boy called the cows as he took them out to the field. ‘Come on, Flossy, there’s a good girl…Git on, Beauty, git, git…’ The sound of his voice jerked her cruelly back from her reverie.

Gone. Everything gone. Clara Wakeford covered her face with her hands and wept.

CHAPTER ONE

‘Your mother has gone to heaven to be with Jesus,’ said Mrs Evans.

‘No, she hasn’t!’

‘I’m afraid, Daisy, that she has.’

Daisy had thought she knew differently. Only the night before she had seen her ma lying in one of Pa’s boxes in the parlour. She was fast asleep in the long box with the shiny handles and the swansdown lining. There were night lights in saucers of salt all round the room.

Everyone tiptoed about the house and spoke in whispers so as not to disturb her, and Daisy supposed the night lights were there so that Ma wouldn’t be frightened of the dark when she woke up and it was very dark in there because all the curtains were closed.

That was how it had all begun. Daisy could pinpoint the very moment when everything had changed, when all the laughter had left the house. It was when Violet had come home to take their ma’s place. Nothing had ever been the same again, she thought, as she sat dangling her legs over the back of the laden cart.

Ma’s death had marked the beginning of seven miserable years; of Pa not having time for anyone and Violet always moaning, always in a mood. But today marked a new beginning too. As the cart lumbered along lanes, splashed red and blue with poppies and cornflowers, Daisy’s eyes darted from one thing to another, avidly taking in her surroundings.

‘It’s a tidy step; a middlin’ stride,’ the man had said and if she hadn’t been so eager to get away from home she might have had misgivings about going with this surly, hulk of a man so many miles from anywhere.

It was Mrs Pritchard who had got her the place. ‘I told them she hasn’t much experience, but she’s very keen,’ the vicar’s wife had said to Daisy’s father. ‘Mr Wakeford has got a small farm over by Chillingford. He has asked his vicar, who has in turn asked us, if a willing, God-fearing girl can be found to help out in the house because Mrs Wakeford hasn’t been too well. I immediately thought of your Daisy. I know she was hoping for a place in a larger establishment but this is a good start. Once she has got her grounding she can always move on if it doesn’t suit.’

Daisy had jumped at the chance, although she had wondered why Mr Wakeford hadn’t looked for a girl from a nearer village. Still, anything would be better than having to stay at home. She breathed in the hot afternoon air, sweet with thyme, sleepy and still, and gave a great sigh of pleasure as she looked across the sweep of hills shouldering each other for as far as the eye could see.

The cart swayed from side to side as the quietly clopping horse followed the white, deeply rutted road that wound across the Downs. Daisy, almost thrown from her seat, grabbed hold of the wooden box as it started to slide. Her father had made the box for Violet when she had gone into service only she didn’t need it now. It had had the initials V.S. engraved on the lid but Pa had changed the V into a D. That’s why it looked a bit strange and certainly not like the Ds she’d been taught to make in school. But it was nice to have her own box. She traced her finger over the D for Daisy and the S for Spencer… Daisy Spencer. Her lips moved silently as she repeated it to herself and a thrill of excitement ran through her. Daisy Spencer, going into service for the first time.

As they approached the next rise, steeper than the last, the man pulled on the reins. ‘Whoa. Whoa, old girl!’ his voice boomed out, bringing Daisy abruptly from her thoughts and the large, lethargic brown horse to an equally abrupt halt.

He looped up the reins and called to Daisy as he climbed heavily down. ‘Get down, girl, and lighten the load. The horse ain’t getting any younger. You’ll have ter walk up the hill yerself.’

Daisy was more than glad to stretch her legs. She had been thoroughly jolted for the past hour or so and her backside ached from sitting so long on the hard planks. She jumped down and came round to the front of the cart just as the man reached the head of the horse and, grasping the bridle in his huge calloused hands, urged it onwards.

She fell into step beside him but he didn’t speak or by any sign acknowledge her presence. They walked, unspeaking, trudging up the dusty chalk track in the sweltering heat, the silence only broken by the jangle of harness, the creaking of hot leather and the snorts of the labouring horse. Everything was steeped in sunshine, the distant hills dancing with the heat and, high overhead, swifts scooped insects from the bright clean sky.

‘Is it much farther?’ Daisy asked at last.

‘Not more’n a few miles. I told you it were a middlin’ stride.’

‘Is it a big farm?’

The man frowned. ‘Not as big as it should be.’

‘What is Mrs Wakeford like? I’ve been told she hasn’t been very well.’

‘Huh!’ He made a little snorting sound and his lip curled derisively. ‘That’s one way of putting it,’ he muttered, more to himself than to Daisy. His eyes roved over the rolling expanse of sheep-cropped slopes and beyond to a spread of dense woodland.

‘What’s wrong with her?’

He didn’t bother to answer, simply narrowed his eyes and screwed up his mouth a bit.

‘Are there a lot of animals?’

‘Two cows, two horses, two pigs, a goat, some hens and a clutch of geese…’

Daisy laughed. ‘If there was two of everything it would be like Noah and the animals in his ark.’

The man cast a sidelong glance at her, his eyes showing a flicker of interest. ‘You know yer bible stories then?’

‘I know the ones that Mrs Pritchard told us at Sunday School. There’s the one about the loaves and fishes, the prodigal son who squandered his fortune,’ she said, counting them off on her fingers. ‘Jacob and his coat of many colours…oh, and the one about the little girl that everyone thought was dead but who Jesus said was only sleeping. But my favourite’s Noah and the Ark. That’s why I mentioned it when you said two horses, two pigs and two cows. Noah had two of everything. I always thought that he should have had two sons as well but he had three. It spoilt the pattern of things didn’t it? Has Mr Wakeford got any sons?’

Again the man didn’t answer. He dug into the pocket of his easy-fitting waistcoat, pulled out a briar pipe and sticking it, empty, between his lips, began sucking on it. Daisy couldn’t see his expression for the battered Half-High hat he wore cast his face in deep shadow, so she asked again. ‘Has he? Mr Wakeford; has he got any sons?’

‘Enough, girl, enough of your questions.’ He removed his hat and pushed fingers through grizzled hair before replacing it again. ‘You talk too much. You’ll soon see.’

Daisy was getting fed up with being called girl especially by a farm labourer. She decided that she didn’t like him very much. No, she didn’t like his manner.

‘My name’s Daisy.’ She craned her neck so that she could look him straight in the eye. He looked like a man who had spent a lifetime outdoors, his face weathered by the sun and the wind of the open Downs. It was a craggy, bad-tempered face with the shadow of a few days’ stubble on his chin, and his dark eyes, hard as pebbles, gave nothing away. He returned her gaze and then she thought she saw a tiny twitch of a smile.

‘I know it is.’

‘Will you tell me yours?’

For a moment it looked as if he wasn’t going to reply. ‘Yes. It’s Jonas,’ he said at last, removing the pipe from his mouth and rubbing his tongue around his front teeth. ‘Jonas Wakeford.’ His chin pushed aggressively forward. ‘That’s Mr Wakeford to you.’

Daisy pressed her lips together and looked away. She could have kicked herself. Fancy taking him for a farm hand when all along he was her new employer. What a good start. She was always doing that; putting her foot in it.

At the brow of the hill, Jonas Wakeford climbed up to the broad plank seat of the cart and unlooped the reins. She had hardly clambered onto the back when he urged on the tired horse. Now that the track was on the level, he slackened the reins and the horse lumbered slowly along.

Daisy would have liked some water. She had been up since dawn and hadn’t had anything to drink since she had left the house. Now, judging by the position of the sun in the sky, it must be late afternoon.

Pulling off her straw hat, she fanned herself with it and would have liked to scratch her head, pushed her fingers through her hair to rub at her scalp that was beginning to itch, but Violet had spent ages putting it up into a fat little bun. It was bristling with pins and she didn’t want to lose them. Her hair was unruly at the best of times and Violet said it looked like a lot of black wriggling worms when it had just been washed. She had shown Daisy a picture in a book she had got from the penny lending library. It was of someone who had a mass of snakes instead of hair and they had laughed over it together. Daisy put up a hand, tentatively probing until she could feel the curved bends of the pins and pushed them more securely into the thickness of her hair. It would never do to arrive at the farm with her hair hanging round her face. She would look a proper slommack and no mistake.

She pulled at the bodice of her best blue dress and, not for the first time that day, thought that she shouldn’t have listened to Violet when she had told her to wear her best. It was much thicker than her everyday and coming on top of her chemise, long drawers and petticoats, was making her feel damp and uncomfortable.

She wondered how much longer it would be before they reached the farm but didn’t like to ask. Mr Wakeford had had such a fierce expression when he told her his name and now she noticed something very unapproachable about the set of his shoulders as he sat hunched over the reins. No, she would just have to wait. The slow rhythm of the horse’s hooves and the sweltering heat were beginning to make her feel drowsy.

But as the track began to descend, Mr Wakeford called over his shoulder, speaking in that deep, gruff voice. ‘Nearly there. There it is.’ With a jerk of his head, he indicated a house and cluster of farm buildings nestled in a hollow and backed by high trees.

Daisy heart sank at the sight of it. She looked down on an old house of thick, stone walls and small windows with deep sills. It was set under a roof, slanting steeply, green with moss. A barn with wide doors, a cowshed, and a small stable huddled on one side and she could see a chicken coop and sties as well as several sheds. Everything had been mended and patched with odd bits of wood and wire giving it a ramshackle appearance as if a mighty wind had picked it up and dropped it down in a heap. Weeds grew through the wheels of a broken dog cart, thrusting their heads through a hole in the floor and twining round the shafts that pointed aimlessly at the sky. All were grouped around a dingy yard of bare, sun-baked earth.

Farm! Daisy put her hand to her mouth. It wasn’t big enough to be a farm; it was nothing more than a smallholding. She should have been warned when Mr Wakeford had said two cows, two horses, two pigs, but she hadn’t been; she had assumed that the farm grew crops; wheat or rye, potatoes or turnips or some such thing. This place looked as if it might be self-sufficient but only just. And what would it be like in the winter? It looked well enough now with the sun glinting on the little windows, a drift of white smoke spiralling from the chimney to meet the blue sky and that splash of mauve foxgloves growing in an untidy patch by the door. But in the winter it would be a horrible lonely place for there wasn’t another house to be seen anywhere. In all her imaginings she hadn’t thought it would be like this.

As the cart swung into the yard, a black and white collie came bounding towards them, leaping and barking in a frenzy of excitement. Alerted by the noise, a woman came to wait in the doorway, wiping her hands on a blue cloth. A streak of light brightened her white apron but her face was obscured by the deep shade cast by the little porch roof.

‘Is this the girl?’ she asked, her voice high and excited, yet somehow nervous.

Jonas Wakeford grunted by way of reply. Already he was unloading the cart, dropping Daisy’s box unceremoniously into the dust of the yard and hauling out a bundle of metal rods that clattered to the ground. He heaved a sack onto his shoulder and soon disappeared round the corner of the house.

‘Does he bite?’ Daisy asked as the dog continued to bark.

‘No. Don’t be nervous; he has a very good temper,’ the woman replied. ‘If you pat him, he won’t harm you.’

Daisy held out her hand, the dog came closer and sniffed cautiously at her skirts. She bent and stroked his shaggy coat.

‘You’d better come inside’ the woman said, turning on her heel and leaving Daisy to follow her down a narrow passageway, dim after the bright light outside. The mouth-watering aroma of meat cooking wafted from a door at the end reminding Daisy of just how hungry she was.

Once inside, the woman hurried over to the cooking range. Daisy watched as she removed the lid from a pan, took up a spoon and, muttering to herself, began to stir the contents.

She was a tall woman, slim to the point of painfulness, and the hand that stirred the pan had long, bony fingers. Like chicken claws, Daisy thought. She looked harassed and her red hair, streaked with grey, was escaping from an untidy bunch at the nape of her neck.

‘Are you Mrs Wakeford?’ Daisy asked as soon as the woman had finished. She wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

‘Yes, I’m Mrs Wakeford,’ she replied, ‘and you must be Daisy.’ She had a curiously faraway tone to her voice, almost dreamy, and Daisy wondered, as Mrs Wakeford’s grey eyes looked her up and down, if it had anything to do with her illness. She was very pale and she certainly didn’t look well.

‘Can you cook?‘ Mrs Wakeford asked at last.

‘I can make Lardy-Johns and Plumheavies.’

‘No, I mean proper cooking; mutton hotpot, bacon pudding and meat dumplings. Those kind of things. Can you cook those?’

She suddenly looked eager and Daisy could see that she was a lot younger than she had first appeared. When she smiled, it lifted her features and brightened her eyes so that she was almost beautiful.

‘I’ve helped my sister…’ Daisy said, uncertainly, ‘Violet does all the cooking in our house… but I’ve watched and learned.’

‘Good, good. Then we’ll cook together and later, when you know how I like things, you shall be able to do it all yourself… if need be.’ She picked up the blue cloth and began wiping her hands again, kneading it absently between her long fingers. ‘Have you brought changes?’

‘Yes, but my box.... It’s in the yard. Mr Wakeford left it there.’

‘Well, I’m sure he’ll bring it in later…when he’s ready. Now, what shall I tell you? Your duties will be to help me in the house; cleaning and cooking. We make our own butter and there are jams and jellies to make when the fruit is ready. Soon there’ll be apples for picking. I’ve already picked the summerings. We have our own orchard, you know. Did you see it when you came down the lane? No, no you wouldn’t; it’s at the far side of the house.’ Her voice was soft; almost refined, Daisy thought, as Mrs Wakeford’s long fingers fluttered over the china on the dresser, moving a plate an inch to the left, a jug nearer to a basin, lining up the already neatly aligned cutlery.

‘It’s always a busy time when the fruit is ready; so much to do. And there’ll be plenty to do when the pigs are killed, too, but that won’t be until November. We have food all the year from our vegetable patch. It has been very good this year…What else? Oh, yes; we rise at five in the summer and an hour later when the days draw in. You are to have one half day a week and every other Sunday. I’m afraid you won’t be able to do much. We are quite far from anywhere here. I hope you’ll get used to it.’

Her face clouded and she turned to stare out of the window. She stood so long with her back turned that Daisy wondered if she should say something. Instead, she took the opportunity to look about the room and was surprised at what she saw.

After the messy yard, she had expected it to be the same inside, but wherever she looked everything was well cared for. The range had been carefully black leaded and the brass fittings polished until they shone. The massive kitchen table had been scrubbed to a pale straw colour and the dresser was neatly stacked with blue and white crockery. Faggots of herbs hung from a ceiling beam and the chair by the range boasted a bright red cushion.

A pretty Dutch clock on the mantelpiece suddenly hammered out the hour, loud in the quiet room, and Daisy was surprised to see that it was already six o’clock.

‘Come on. We mustn’t dally,’ the woman said, roused by the chimes. ‘I’ll show you to your room. It’s in the attic. There’s a little window where you can see for miles.’

She opened a door that shut off the stairs and, turning, beckoned Daisy to follow before hurrying up the narrow steps. At the top of the house, she flung open a door and stood aside for Daisy to enter.

The room was so small there was hardly enough space for the bed and the only other piece of furniture was an old kitchen chair. Daisy could only think of having, not only a room to herself, but a bed that she didn’t have to share. It didn’t matter that it smelled damp and musty or that it hadn’t been cleaned. She could clean it up and make it quite cosy. The wooden floor creaked under her feet as she walked over to look through the tiny casement window.

‘There! I told you there was a lovely view,’ Mrs Wakeford called from outside. ‘Am I not right?’

*

It was an awful evening. Daisy had gone downstairs to eat a meal at the kitchen table with Mr Wakeford. It was only the two of them as Mrs Wakeford said that she had eaten hers earlier. She served them some dried up mutton stew with overcooked potatoes and then disappeared. And what a miserable meal, Daisy thought. Apart from Mr Wakeford saying grace, neither of them spoke and she was glad when it was over.

Afterwards, just as soon as she had washed all the dishes, including two pans that needed burnt food scraping off their bottoms, Mr Wakeford called her into the parlour for prayers. The mistress was already kneeling on the rug by the window when Daisy entered the room.

For an hour she knelt while Mr Wakeford prayed for their souls. It wasn’t long before she grew bored so she lifted her head slightly and opened her eyes; just enough to let her see the room from under her lashes. It was full of ugly furniture. It had once been good, strong, but now it was shabby, everything worn out. The carpet, too, was showing signs of wear but the floor had been waxed to a brilliant shine. On the opposite wall, a stuffed owl stared down on her with dead glass eyes. Decorative tiles surrounded the fireplace with pictures of birds and flowers on them but they were old, cracked, and had shifted a little so that one of the birds looked as if it had a broken wing. She counted the flowers and after a while turned her attention to the mistress.

The sun, slanting a last few beams through the lattice window, gave the woman’s hair a coppery glow and it made her look even paler. Every now and then her face twitched and her lips were pressed together as if she was struggling to control herself. She really was an odd sort of a person.

The master, fervently pleading forgiveness for their sins, had his hands firmly clasped against his chest and his head bowed. Daisy couldn’t see his face, only the dome of his head. His hair was thinning and she could see his scalp through the few remaining strands. It reminded her of Bodger Tomkins’ who rode a donkey and spat tobacco juice on Mrs Pritchard’s boots when she had asked him why he didn’t come to church. Daisy closed her eyes, remembering.

Mr Wakeford’s voice droned on. By the time he had finished, Daisy was nearly asleep. She was relieved when he dismissed her and grateful to struggle up the stairs to the little room under the eaves. Undressing quickly, she got into bed, only to find that in spite of her tiredness she was unable to sleep.

Instead, she lay in the narrow, lumpy bed, wide-eyed in the dark, going over the events of the day. After a while her eyes became accustomed to the darkness. She could make out the ceiling beams and through the little window that she had thrown open to the night air, the furthermost hill where its gentle slopes met the sky.

Any excitement at the thought of having a bed to herself had gone. She missed the soft hump of her sister, May, who had shared the bed at home for as long as she could remember. When they were young they had listened to the sounds of movement downstairs; Ma, singing quietly as she washed the pots, and Pa clumping about, his boots making a drag and thump sound on the kitchen floor because of his gammy leg. She and May had told stories and giggled, and sometimes argued, but they had always been together and Daisy wondered what May was thinking now that she was no longer there and sister, Rose, was taking her place.

She had been so excited at the prospect of leaving home when she had set out this morning. This morning! She could hardly believe that it had only been so short a time ago. And she could hardly believe that things were turning out so differently from how she had imagined they would be. The farm was a big disappointment, she didn’t like Mr Wakeford very much and Mrs Wakeford …well, she was decidedly odd.

The springs creaked as she turned over, trying to get comfortable in the strange bed. It was something else she was going to have to get used to.

Daisy was beginning to think, that in coming here, she had made a terrible mistake.

****

CHAPTER TWO

The day had hardly broken when Daisy, still sleepy, stumbled down the narrow stairs. The kitchen was empty but she could see through the passage that the door to the yard was open and so, thinking that she might find Mrs Wakeford there, she went outside. The yard, too, was empty and for a moment she didn’t know what to do. What was expected of her? Should she wait or should she find something to get on with?

The rising sun promised another fine day but it did nothing to dispel her gloom of the previous evening. For two pins she would pack up and go. She wouldn’t need any persuading if it wasn’t for what Violet had said before she left home.

You can’t expect to like it straight off, she had said. Everything’s bound to be strange at first but you’ll soon get used to it. Give it a few weeks at least, see how it goes and if it doesn’t work out you’ll have to come home.

That was all very well, but what would she go home to? Dreary days and Violet going on at her for not having the gumption to stick at anything for more than five minutes. And another thing; how long would it be before she found another place? Mrs Pritchard wouldn’t go out of her way to help her a second time. Not if she went home as soon as she’d got here. No, don’t make a decision too soon, she told herself. You’ll have to make the best of it. At least for the time being.

The hens were already cackling in the hen house and, as the daylight gained strength, the early sun brightened the fields into all shades of green and gold. Perhaps things didn’t look quite so bad this morning. Perhaps it would be all right after all.

Over to her right, near the barn, was a water pump. It reminded her that she hadn’t asked about washing and there had been no bowl or jug in her room. The pump squeaked as she swung the handle and the water, splashing on her face, was cold and sharp. As she rubbed it from her eyes, a movement caught her attention.

A boy stood some ten feet away from her. A man really for he must have been in his early twenties, but she could tell straight away that he wasn’t quite right; not all there as her pa would say. Mrs Stedman had a boy like that. He was a nice boy who used to talk to her. He kept telling her about his snegs, those horrible snails that he used to keep in a box, and the way he nodded his head and made a gurgling sound in his throat when he laughed would make her laugh too. Curly Wickes and Jerry Sutton used to call after him. They called him names that weren’t very nice. Names like Snotty Dick and Skew-Whiffety because of the way he walked sideways. She used to get so mad at them. It wasn’t fair because he couldn’t help it, after all.

But this boy wasn’t laughing. He was staring at her with big blue eyes and his mouth open wide. He looked a sorry sight, what with his jacket being too short in the sleeves and his trousers all patched at the knees

‘Careful! You’ll fall over that lower lip,’ she said, hoping to make him smile.

He looked baffled for a moment and then continued to stare, warily taking a step backwards as if confronted by a dangerous animal.

Perhaps he was shy. ‘Hello, I’m Daisy. I’ve come to work here. What’s your name?’ she asked, stepping towards him with a friendly smile.

At this, he fled, almost tripping over his feet in his haste.

She called after him, ‘Please don’t go!’

With frightened eyes, he looked back over his shoulder once more and then slipped out of sight behind some sheds. Daisy followed and peered round the corner. He was beside some bales of hay, rubbing his face with his hands and rolling his head from side to side, his frantic pacing leading him round and round in a tight circle.

Alarmed at the affect she seemed to have had, she was about to approach, in the hope that she could calm him, when the master came out of the shed.

‘Boy!’ he shouted. ‘Stop fooling and get on with your work. I’ve warned you about fiddlefarting about when there’s work to be done. Have you fothered the cows yet? And what about the pigs?’

The boy stopped pacing. He hung his head and refused to look up, muttering something that Daisy couldn’t hear. At this, Mr Wakeford gave him such a cuff round the ear that it made Daisy wince.

‘Well, look sharp. I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken to you about it. There’s no room for idlers here so watch I don’t catch you again.’ He took another swipe at him but the boy jerked his head back and hurried away.

Mr Wakeford shook his head impatiently. He picked up an axe that was leaning against the shed and weighed it in his hand a moment before squinting along the blade. And then he turned to see Daisy watching him.

Daisy’s breath caught in her throat as he advanced towards her, the pickaxe in his hand. And as she was wondering what he was about to do, he poked his head forward and, drawing his brows together, snapped, ‘And you can take that look off of your face ’n all, girl!’

She opened her mouth to reply but thought better of it and he looked hard at her before turning away, grumbling as he went.

‘Spawn of the devil!’ she heard him say.

Daisy hurried back to the kitchen in case she, too, was accused of wasting time. Mrs Wakeford was there, busy at the range, but turned at the clatter of Daisy’s boots on the bare stone floor.

‘Ah, there you are. I thought you were still a-bed and was about to fetch you. It won’t do to overlay. I expect you to be punctual. Where have you been?’

‘I was washing at the pump.’

‘Well, now you are here you can start laying the table. You’ll find all you need on the dresser. Enough for the two of us; Mr Wakeford has had his long since.’

As Daisy brought the blue and white plates, cups and saucers to the table she thought about the boy. It was nice to know that someone else was here apart from the master and mistress. Even if he was a bit soft in the upper storey, like Mrs Stedman’s son. It was still someone she could have a chat with and perhaps a laugh.

‘Mrs Wakeford… who is the boy?’ Daisy asked as Mrs Wakeford took up a big black kettle to fill the teapot. She saw the woman pause and her back stiffen.

‘The boy?’

‘I saw a boy outside.’

‘Oh,

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