Wednesday, 2 December 2009
The longest night . . .
A finger of moonlight shivered across the floor, reflecting the imperfections in the thick window glazing. The fire was reduced to the last amber corner of a log. The Tawneys called to one another in the ash trees along the hedgerow and countless small animals scuttled for cover in the grass tussocks. He shifted in the bed, stretching out his legs and then quickly retracting them as they reached a cool boundary beyond the warm cocoon. He pulled the rough blanket closer to him, but lay, eyes wide open, staring at the moonlight, as the breeze stroked the willow tree close by, tigering the brightness.
He thought of her, laying in her own bed just the other side of the lane. The first silver threads highlighting the lock of hair which always fell across her brow. The warm glow of her cheeks. Her eyes echoing the smile on her lips when she saw him. She must know. She must realize that theirs was more than friendship.
He turned over, pulling the blanket close to his neck. Sleep had forsaken him. He judged the hour to be about 4 a.m. Market Day. He would make sure that they walked in together, offer to put her skeins of netting in the pannier on the donkey. They would have plenty of time for talking as they walked, kicking up dust as they walked towards the town, in the company of many another laden with goods to sell in return for the provisions they couldn't grow or buy.
The lilac tree by the back door began to screech as the breeze grew stronger and frolicked through its branches, pushing it against the house wall and rubbing its crossing branches together. It set his teeth on edge. He decided he would take a saw to it, the dratted thing. Then he remembered how much his wife had loved it, and picked stemfuls of the lilac flowers each May to decorate the room.
Suddenly he could smell onions - a netful which lay in a forgotten corner. A rotting onion was no ones' friend. He thought of the cawl that Mary made, fragrant with leek and with morsels of mutton floating on the surface amongst the sweet carrot and parsnip. His mouth began to water. Annoyed with himself, he flung back the blanket and dressed, forcing warm feet into boots still damp and stiffening from slipping into the stream the previous day. He lit the lamp and pulled out the last corner of bread and cut himself a piece of the sweating cheese under its domed dish. The bread was stale, but no matter, there would be fresh today as Mary had been baking. He found his hand crumbling morsels of it as he stared across the room, where the draught from the door lifted a corner of the Almanack on the dresser, warbling across the edges of the curling pages.
The sky began to lighten to the east as the first tentative trills of birds of the smallest kind began to sound, until a positive choir of birdsong reached a crescendo as the palest of lilac grey streaks heralded the dawn in the East. He pushed back his chair and, reaching for the lamp, limped out to catch the Ned, who watched him with deep suspicion as he approached with the halter, as being caught normally meant being worked in his mind. But he stood his ground and presently was standing in the little lean-to shack that doubled as an overflow wood shed in the winter.
Across the lane, Mary had been listening to the murmurings of the river as it fled past her kitchen. It was a comforting noise. In the summer it was her friend, but with autumn's rains, there began a worrying time as the waters rose and fell. The end of her little plot dipped down and was often flooded, but the cottage - so far - stayed above the flood waters, even though they threatened to join her on occasion. The little roadside window showed her that Will was up and about, as the soft light of his oil lamp lit his own window. She rubbed her hands, and straightened her back, wincing as the rheumatism complained. A good few lengths of netting she had made, and should fetch a good price this Market Day. She hoped to get some material for a summer dress. Her old Best Frock was looking sad now that it had been turned these three times and the print faded whichever side you looked at it. A new dress was a big investment of time for her, taking her away from the netting, but the extra hours of daylight were on her side - she could rise early and retire late. And you never knew when you might need a new Best Frock. No indeed . . .