Authors: Val Wood
He rubbed his sparse beard thoughtfully. âThat's it, isn't it? She has her father's blood in more quantity than her mother's. These foreigners don't work in 'same way as we do, they take time off whenever they feel like it. Just look at those Irish louts. First fine day and they down their spades and go off to spend their money at 'nearest inn.'
âThere was an Irishman asking about you, Mr Drew.' Rosa crossed her arms across her chest and put her burning hands beneath her armpits. She never called Mr Drew anything but that, though she called Mrs Drew Aunt Ellen, as she had asked her to. âHe said he hadn't seen you for many a long year.'
âWho asked you to speak?' Mr Drew ranted.
âSpeak when you're spoken to! What Irishman? There's dozens of 'em all over Sunk Island.'
âHe was called Seamus. He was asking Henryâ' She broke off as she saw Mr Drew's expression change from anger to unease.
âWhat? What was he asking Henry?'
âI don't know, just if you were in good health. He's been working on one of 'dykes with the rest of 'gang.'
Mr Drew got to his feet. âGo on! Off you go.' He dismissed her and she breathed a sigh. Her lecture and punishment were over.
âI have to go out,' Mr Drew informed his wife abruptly. âWhere did Henry go?'
âWhy shouldn't I go out?' he said brusquely. âIt's not late and it's not dark. Where did Henry go?'
âI don't know.' She told a small white lie. She didn't know, but she could guess. She had seen Henry walking swiftly and determinedly down the track towards the channel. He was, she was sure, heading towards his boat and one of the inns of Patrington, out of his father's reach.
But his father mounted a cob and caught up with Henry as he was unfastening the rope of his coggy boat.
âHenry!' he bellowed. âWait. I want to ask you summat.'
âWhat?' Henry's voice was sullen. He had no wish to talk to his father.
âWho's this Irishman who's been asking about me?'
âI don't know,' Henry muttered. âNever seen
him afore, although he reckons he's seen me. Seamus something or other. Said he used to work for you. Byrne!' he remembered. âSeamus Byrne.'
His father took in a deep breath. âWhere's he working now?'
Henry shrugged. âHe was on one of 'dykes over near Hawkins Point.'
âGet rid of him,' Drew said sharply. âTell him we're cutting down on men. He's a troublemaker,' he added, seeing Henry's astonished face. âAnd we can do without them.'
âShe's not afraid to speak 'truth,' Mrs Drew murmured to Maggie as they dried the supper dishes. âShe just speaks her mind, without thinking of 'consequences.'
Maggie smiled. âShe's got courage, I'll say that for her. I expect when she's older she'll think afore she speaks.'
âI don't know if she will,' said her mother. âShe's honest and straightforward. She's not really wilful but if her mind is set on something then she'll just go ahead and do it.'
Rosa's mind was set on something else later in the summer. Haymaking was over and she was back in school, but she hadn't been to see her grandmother for weeks and she wanted to go, she wanted to ask her something.
âMatthew!' She met him in the yard one late afternoon as she returned from school. Matthew had finished school now. His father said he needn't go back any more after haymaking. âI'm going to see my gran. Do you want to come?'
âAye.' His face lit up. âI'd like that. When?'
âWell, I asked Maggie and she said we couldn't go for another week or two. She's busy making jam and chutney. But I don't want to wait, so I thought on Sunday after dinner.'
Matthew's mouth dropped open. âThey'll not let you go on your own!'
âI shan't tell them,' she said. âI'll not be missed. We'll have our dinner, and then your da always has a sleep in 'parlour, and your ma and Maggie will be busy in 'kitchen. They'll think I'm out playing somewhere.'
She gazed at him and blinked her long dark lashes. âIf you'd like to come we'll be back afore they notice.'
âI don't know.' He hesitated. âI'll have some jobs to do first. And we'll both get 'strap if we're found out. Da says I'm not too big for 'strap.' At thirteen, Matthew was already taller than his father and Henry, and as tall as Jim, though not as thin.
âBut that'll be too late,' she said. âCan't you do them when we come back? We won't stay long. Gran allus gives me a sixpence,' she added as an incentive.
Matthew chewed on his lip. He'd often rowed Henry's boat. He'd like to go. âAll right. Onny don't let our Delia know, 'cos she's sure to tell.'
They left the house separately after Sunday dinner was over, Matthew heading for the barn and Rosa nonchalantly walking towards the pastureland. They met up when they were out of sight of the house and ran towards the channel.
It was hot, a heat haze shimmered over the
land and Matthew unfastened his shirt buttons and rolled up his sleeves. âYou'll have to fasten them again when you see my gran and Miss Dingley,' Rosa said. âMiss Dingley is very proper and she doesn't like bairns.'
âAye, I know, but I'm not a bairn. I'm a working lad now.'
Rosa looked up at him. It was true. He no longer looked like a schoolboy. âSo does your da give you a proper wage?'
âNo.' He pulled a face. âHe says I've to work for my keep till I'm fifteen. Then he'll think about paying me.'
âHe's a bit mean, your da, isn't he?' Rosa commented. âIf you went to 'Hirings you could get a job with a wage, even if it wasn't much.'
âI could,' he agreed. âHenry said I should go while 'going was good; that I should get experience on another farm. He said he'd left it too late and wished he'd gone.'
âSo why don't you?' she asked.
He turned deep blue eyes towards her and then looked away. âI like it here on Sunk Island â and besides, one day 'farm will be ours, Jim's and Henry's and mine.'
âYou might fall out over it,' she said. âAnd you're 'youngest so you're last in line.'
He smiled. âWe won't. I heard Jim telling Henry he'd get shut of Marsh Farm as soon as he could. He can't stand 'place and would rent somewhere on 'mainland. Henry says he'd have it. Which means that I'd have Home Farm.'
She frowned. Henry had said that Jim didn't like Marsh Farm and she still didn't understand
why. They were working on the land now, draining it and getting it ready for resowing. In a few years' time it would be good prime land.
âWhy doesn't he like it?' she asked curiously.
âDon't know, he won't say.' He looked thoughtful. âI know it sounds daft but, well, it seems as if he's scared of summat. He puts off going there.'
Henry's boat was tied to a stake at the side of the bank and Rosa climbed in whilst Matthew unfastened the rope. âCan I row?' she asked. âWill you show me how?'
He hesitated for a moment. âAll right.' He swapped places with her. âOur Maggie knows how to row, I don't see why you shouldn't.'
She took the oars and dipped them into the water and paddled them gently, then as she felt the boat move forward she started to row, pulling hard on the oars across the short distance of the channel.
âWell,' said Matthew admiringly. âI'd swear you've done it afore.'
âI haven't.' She shook her head, pleased with his praise. âBut I watched Henry and it seemed easy.'
âIt is here on 'channel. There's no rough water. But it's different out on 'river. You'd have to know 'tides or you'd be carried off into deep water. Anyway,' he said. âThey'll be starting to build a bridge soon and we'll be able to walk across. We won't be an island any more.'
They were both silent then, and Rosa thought how sorry she would be. She knew that it was what the farmers and their wives wanted, but she liked living on an island, and she was fascinated
by the fact that once the land had been at the bottom of the river, with the waters swirling above it. It was somehow magical and mysterious and she felt sometimes, when she was alone, that the quiet murmur of the deep waters wrapped around her, protecting and comforting her.
âWhat do you want to ask your gran?' Matthew asked as they reached the other side and he jumped out onto the bank to make the boat fast.
âSomething,' she said, but wouldn't be drawn and they walked in silence away from the haven and towards Patrington village.
âI'm not sure if I should come in.' Matthew hung back as they reached Miss Dingley's door. âThey might not want me to.'
âIt's all right,' she assured him. âGran won't mind, besides she knows you, doesn't she? It's Aunt Bella you've to be careful with.'
Flo opened the door to them. âWhy, Matthew! What you doing here? Hello, Rosa, come to see your gran? And where's our Maggie?'
âWe've come on our own,' Rosa confessed. âMaggie was busy.'
âOh, you're a caution! Does Ma know you're here?'
Rosa shook her head. âWe'll be back before we're missed,' she explained.
Flo opened her mouth in astonishment, then closed it only to say, âI wouldn't want to be in your breeches, Matthew, if Da finds out.'
Matthew shuffled his feet. âHe'll onny give me 'strap. Anyway,' he said defiantly, âI'm entitled to time off. I don't have to be working all of 'time.'
âCome on through, Rosa. Matthew, you stop here a minute and then we'll go into 'kitchen. You can have a piece o' cake,' she added, smiling at him. âBy, it's good to see somebody from home and just look at you, how big you are!'
She took Rosa into the parlour where her grandmother was sitting knitting, and Miss Dingley was asleep in her chair. Her gran looked up and smiled and then put her finger to her lips. âDon't waken her,' she said softly. âIt's onny bit o' peace I get, when she's asleep!'
Miss Dingley had her head back against the chair and her mouth open; each time she took a snorting breath the ribbons on her cap blew gently up and down about her chin. Rosa put her hand to her mouth to restrain a laugh and her grandmother shook her head in smiling admonishment.
âWhere's Maggie?' she asked quietly. âI look forward to her visits. Who's brought you?'
âI've come with Matthew. At least, I asked him if he wanted to come with me. He doesn't go anywhere much.'
âAnd what if 'lad gets into trouble for bringing you?'
âI'll say it was my fault. That he came to look after me.'
âAnd you'd have come alone if Matthew hadn't come?' Mrs Jennings put down her knitting.
âYes, I'm big enough,' Rosa said. âAnd I wanted to ask you something.'
âWhat did you want to ask me that's so important and couldn't wait?'
Rosa glanced at Miss Dingley, who was stirring
in her sleep. âI wanted to ask you â was my da a proper prince, or was Ma just making it up?'
Her grandmother's face clouded and she turned to look into the fire.
âBecause you see,' Rosa went on, âI met this Irishman by the river and when I told him that my da was a Spanish prince, he looked at me and said, Sure and,' she hesitated as she tried to remember exactly what he had said. âSure, and with those eyes and dark hair, your daddy couldn't be anything else.'
Mrs Jennings took up her knitting again. âWho was this man? What was his name?'
âSeamus,' she said. âThat's what he told Henry anyway. He said he used to work for Mr Drew.'
âSeamus!' Mrs Jennings nodded. âYour da knew a Seamus, though why a Spaniard and an Irishman should know each other, I never could work out.'
âSo, was he?' Rosa asked. âA prince, I mean?'
âI don't know, my dear.' Her grandmother sighed and looked across at her cousin, who was just waking. âI think it was some tale he spun your poor ma. He was a prince in her eyes anyway.'
âWhat! Who?' Miss Dingley woke with a splutter. âWhat did you say?'
âNothing!' Mrs Jennings said cheerfully. âYou've been dreaming again, Bella. Here's our Rosa come to see us.'
Miss Dingley humphed and stared at Rosa as if she had never seen her before. Then she said abruptly and accusingly, âYour grandmother will say you've grown, I expect, and I daresay you
have. Who's that out there?' she demanded as the doorknob rattled.
âOnny Flo with 'tea things,' Mrs Jennings pacified her, âand you'd better fetch young fella in here for us to look at,' she said to Flo as she came in through the door with a tea tray.
âFellow! What fellow? I know of no fellow,' Miss Dingley cried. âWho is it? Who is it?'
âOnny my brother, Miss Dingley,' said Flo placatingly. âHe's come wi' Rosa. I'll fetch him in.'
She brought in a restrained and blushing Matthew who didn't raise his eyes but kept them firmly on his boots.
âA boy!' Miss Dingley exclaimed. âWhat's a boy doing here?' She leant forward and glared at Matthew. âYour brother, did you say?' She directed her questions at Rosa. âHow is he your brother and why is he here?'
âHe's not my brother, Aunt Bella,' Rosa explained. âHe's Flo's brother. He's brought me here cos I'm not supposed to come on my own.'
Matthew's head got lower and lower as he tried to hide his blushes.
âHumph,' Miss Dingley said. âWell, take him away,' she demanded. âI've seen him now and that's quite enough. I never did care for boys; nasty, noisy creatures.'
Matthew hastily backed out of the room towards the kitchen, and Flo poured the tea and gave Rosa a thick slice of cake. âMatthew's had a piece already,' she whispered. âBut I shouldn't stay long if I were you. We don't want you getting into trouble at home. Not like our Henry.'