The road levels out again and soon they see the post box, set on a wooden pole in the hedge near the head of another lane on their left. The road they are on now descends before rising again. At the low point, a farm gate is set back from the road on the left, between tall conifers. Beyond the gate, in a hollow beside a stream, is the cottage. Built of grey stone, its narrow gable end faces the road. Six windows and two doors face the gable end of a similar two story building across a cobbled yard.
As the younger woman reaches for the catch to open the gate a group of white faced cattle amble out from behind this second building, their hooves skidding on the cobbles. The leading animal stops and stares at the women. The followers jostle each other and the lead animal. Behind them a man emerges, wielding a hazel stick.
“Hup,” he urges the anmals. He strides between the animals and the building, poking the lead animal with the stick. “Get on.” His voice conveys urgency. The lead animal responds by loping forwards, past the gable end of the house, closely followed by the rest of the small herd.
The man looks at the women, lifts his sweat stained trilby hat and scratches his head, bare scalp visible between strands of white hair. “Be with you in a minute.” He replaces his hat and urges the cattle through a gateway into a field on the women’s left.
As he closes the field gate on his charges, the young woman opens the gate leading to the property. She pushes the pram down the path toward the house, being carefull to avoid the steaming deposits left behind by the cows. Her mother turns to close the gate behind them.
“You be the folks to look at the house.” It is a statement, not a question. The man transfers a flat roll-up cigarette, part smoked, from behind his right ear to his bottom lip. His tan tweed jacket has seen better days. From the top pocket he removes a box of Swan Vestas, strikes one and, cupping his hand around the flame, relights the cigarette. The young woman notes that his finger nails are long and dirty.
“I’m Ivy Parker. This is my mother, Mrs Jeffries. And, yes, we are interested in renting the house.”
From another pocket the man takes a heavey iron key. He hands it to Ivy. He peers into the pram. “That ‘un be quiet. Be it a boy or a girl?”
“The father, Mr Parker, he be at war?” This time the statement is rendered as a question.
“RAF. Bomber crew. Based near Cambridge.”
“And you be from London?”
“The rent be ten shillin’ a week. You do pay the rates. Drop the key back at The Castle on your way past. Tell Mother if you do want to take it.”
As he departs Ivy is relieved not to have had to shake his hand. At the gate he stops, turns and points to the left. “Over there be where you do get water.”
Ivy looks in the direction he has pointed and sees four large flag stones overlapping to form a rudimentary cover for what, on closer inspection, appears to be a concrete tank sunk into the ground. A pipe protrudes from the near face of the tank. From it water dribbles into a bucket. Ivy cannot help but notice that some of the khaki coloured deposits left by the cows has landed on the edge of the flags.
The child in the pram makes a sound, a croak which turns into a cry. Ivy picks him up and looks around for somewhere to sit. The first of the two doors has a stone step. There being nowhere else, she sits on it. “Pass me his bottle, please, Mum.”
Her mother is already rummaging in the bag. Ivy continues: “There’s warm milk in one of the flasks.”
4 thoughts on “Monday Memories: Beginnings #2 – A Cotage by a Stream”
Whoa! I was going to bust you for some edits but what a brilliant story! I love this kind of stuff. Honest. Great descriptions without going full botanical or travelogue. The picture…Man oh man. I have a picture of my mother holding my hands like that someplace in Kansas where they lived for a short while. Well we’re not in Kansas anymore and that one was golden. Thanks, Frank, for taking us there.
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Thanks for the flattery, Phil!
Great story and writing, Frank and I would “endorse” Phil’s comment without hesitation.
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Memories of a long gone past. That’s when Ricoeur says Memory becomes History. 🙂
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