Read the maltese angel Online

Authors: Yelena Kopylova

the maltese angel

the maltese angel

[070-4.5]

By: Katherine Cook son

Synopsis:

Romance novel set during World War I.

Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister.

She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings where she met and married a local grammar-school master. At the age of forty she began writing about the lives of the working-class people with whom she had grown up, using the place of her birth as the background to many of her novels.

Although originally acclaimed as a regional writer her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby award for the best regional novel of 1968her readership soon began to spread throughout the world.

Her novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have sold more than 40,000,000 copies in Corgi paperback. Four of her novels The Fifteen Streets, The Black Velvet Gown, The Black Candle and The Man Who Cried- have been made into successful television dramas, and more are planned.

Catherine Cookson's many best selling novels have established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. She and her husband Tom now live near NewcastleuponTyne.

OTHER BOOKS BY CATHERINE COOK SON

NOVELS

Kate Hannigan The Tide of Life The Fifteen Streets The Slow Awakening Colour Blind The Iron Facade Maggie Rowan The Girl Rooney The Cinder Path The Menagerie The Man Who Cried Slinky Jane Tiny Trotter Fanny McBride Tiny Trotter Wed Fenwick Houses Tiny Trotter Widowed The

Garment The Whip The Blind Miller Hamilton Hannah Massey The Black Velvet Gown The Long Corridor Goodbye Hamilton The Unbaited Trap A Dinner of Herbs Katie Mulholland Harold The Round Tower The Moth The Nice Bloke Bill Bailey The Glass Virgin The Parson's Daughter The

Invitation Bill Bailey's Lot The Dwelling Place The Cultured Handmaiden Feathers in the Fire Bill Bailey's Daughter Pure as the Lily The

Harrogate Secret The Mallen Streak The Black Candle The Mallen Girl The Wingless Bird The Mallen Litter The Gillyvors The Invisible Cord My Beloved Son The Gambling Man The Rag Nymph Miss Martha Mary Crawford The House of Women

THE MARY ANN STORIES

A Grand Man Life and Mary Ann The Lord and Mary Ann Marriage and Mary Ann The Devil and Mary Ann Mary Ann's Angels Love and Mary Ann Mary Ann and Bill

FOR CHILDREN

Matty Doolin Mrs. Flannagan's Trumpet Joe and the Gladiator Go Tell It To Mrs. Golighdy The Nipper Lanky Jones Blue Baccy Nancy Nutall and the Mongrel Our John Willie

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Our Kate Catherine Cookson Country Let Me Make Myself Plain

WRITING AS CATHERINE MAR CHANT

House of Men Heritage of Folly The Fen Tiger corgi books

Book One 18861888

Part One 9 Part Two 87

Book Two 18961914 Part One 16^ Part Two 205 Part Three 307

Book Three 19161921 Part One ^81 Part Two ^Ai

Book One

Part One It had taken him only half an hour from leaving Newcastle to reach the first gate of his farm. He had ridden faster than usual, yet all the while asking himself why, because once he got into the house, what would he do? He'd sit down at the table, put his elbows on it, droop his head into his hands and ask himself, and for the countless time, what his reaction would have been had the company at The Empire not been engaged for another week; and the answer he would give would be:

he didn't know.

Things had moved too fast: he had never been in a situation like this in his life; he had never felt like this in his life; he had never even known what love was. He had known what need was. Oh, aye. And that had been a kind of torment. And so was this present feeling; but a different kind of torment. No, no; he couldn't call it torment, not this feeling of elation, of being taken out of himself; it was like being lifted on to some high hill .. mountain; yes, mountain;

and experiencing an exhilarating emotion flooding through him, more cleansing than frost-filled air in the early dawn.

He would then ask himself if he had gone out of his mind. Four times only had he seen the girl .. no, the young woman .. no, the beautiful creature that appeared to him as someone not quite human.

It couldn't be because he was unused to looking at turns on the

stage:

at least once a month over the past two years he had sat through a performance at The Empire or at one of the other theatres in the

city;

he had even sat through a play by Shakespeare, which, and he had to admit it, wasn't much to his taste; the twang and the rigmarole were hard to get into ..

He pulled up at the second gate and, leaning from the saddle, unlatched the iron hoop from the stanchion;

but his hand became still for a moment when he looked across the dark field towards the outbuildings of his farm and saw the movement of a lantern, not coming from the direction of the cow byres or the

piggeries, or yet from the hen crees in the field, which might have denoted a fox on his rounds and Billy Compton after him, for there was no sound of barking from the dogs;

nor was it coming from the floor of the old barn, but from the loft.

Having urged his mount through the gate, he turned in the saddle and replaced the hoop, then put the animal into a gallop towards the mud yard. There, dismounting, he patted its rump, and pushed it towards its stable, saying, "Be with you in a minute, Betty," before hurrying down the yard and entering an open-fronted barn.

Approaching the ladder that rose to the loft, he shouted, "You up there, Billy?"

In answer, a head appeared above him, saying, "Aye, Master Ward.

"Tis I up here all right; and a visitor. Better you come up and make his acquaintance like."

When Ward Gibson reached the loft floor his eyes were drawn to a small figure hunched against the old timbers of the sloping roof, and he walked slowly towards it, saying, "Aye! Aye! And who's this when he's out?"

"Can't get a word out of him, master. But he's in one hell of a state for a hairn."

"What do you mean, hell of a state?" Ward's voice was low; and so was the old man's as he replied, "He's been thrashed, an' badly; scourged, I would say. An' he doesn't seem to have any wits left him, he's so full of fear. Shook like an aspen when I first spoke to him."

Ward dropped on to his hunkers before the very small figure and,

kindly, he said, "Hello there! What's your name?"

Two round eyes stared back at him. The lids blinked rapidly, but the boy's lips did not move.

"Come along, now; you've got a name. There's nobody here goin' to touch you."

The old man, too, was now on his hunkers, and he held his hand out gently towards the boy, saying, "Let the master look at your back, laddie. Just let him see your back. Come on, now. Come on."

After a moment the boy slowly hitched himself round, and as slowly Billy lifted up the dirty grey shirt and so exposed in the light of the lantern the scarlet weals crisscrossing each other from the small

shoulders down to the equally small buttocks, and that these overlaid older scars.

The elder man now spoke in a whisper: "That whip had a number of tails, don't you think, master? An' take a look at his wrists," and so saying he gently pulled the shirt down and turned the boy round again, and, taking up the small dirt-grimed hands, pointed to the wrists.

"Tarry rope, I would say. But look at the ankle! That's definitely a chain mark."

The old man now looked at his master, waiting for him to speak; but it was some seconds before Ward, holding out his hand, said, "Come along, son. Nobody's going to hurt you here. Come on."

The boy did not at first move, but when he attempted to stand up he almost toppled; and instinctively Ward went to pick him up; but the child, as he proved to be from his stature, shunned back from him. And again Ward said, "There's no-one going to hurt you here. Come on; walk if you can; otherwise, I'll carry you."

The boy now walked unsteadily down the loft; but when he came to the edge of the platform and seemed as if he might be about to fall,

without any hesitation now, Ward lifted him up and, holding him in one arm, made his way down the ladder.

Outside, and about to cross the yard, he said to Billy, "Is Annie in the cottage?"

^

"Aye; she is, master; in bed this half hour. But there's your supper in the oven, and plenty of cold victuals. But if you think I should get her up .."

"No. We'll do what is necessary... How did you find him?"

"Twas the dogs. Flo was uneasy; even Cap kept runnin' back and for'

and An' when Flo barked at the bottom of the ladder, well, I knew

somebody was up there. When I shouted twice an' got no answer, I

yelled I had me gun with me, and I pushed Flo up afront like. But as soon as she discovered the boy she stopped her yappin'. Funny, but he didn't seem to be feared of her."

"Well, that's about the only thing in life, if you ask me, he isn't afraid of."

It was nearly half an hour later. Billy had washed the boy's face and hands, and Ward himself had cleaned the boy's back as much as he could without causing him more pain than he was apparently already suffering, before applying an ointment that his mother had used on both humans and beasts for bruises and boils and every known skin ailment. Afterwards, they had watched the waif gulp at food like a ravenous animal, and when he had drunk a half pint of milk almost at one swallow, they had

exchanged glances. But it wasn't until the lad was seated on the low crack et before the fire, a blanket about him, that the stiffness

seemed to go out of his body and his tongue became loose for the first time.

When Ward again asked his name, he said, "Carl Bennett."

The name seemed ordinary enough to them both;

but the tone of the voice was not one they would have termed local, nor would it have been recognisable for miles around.

When Ward asked how old he was, the boy at first said, "Eight;' but then his head jerked and he had added, " No; nine. "

Where had he come from? At this he had bowed his head before

muttering, "Farm."

"Whose farm?" asked Ward.

"Which farm?"

The look the boy gave Ward was furtive before he muttered, "A long way off, beyond Durham."

"Beyond Durham?"

The old man and Ward seemed to repeat the words together.

"When did you leave?"

"Yesterday. No ... The tousled dark head shook again.

"The day before. Not sure."

"Why?"

There was no answer to this, only the look in the boy's eyes seemed to say, "Need you ask?"

"What was the name of the farm ... or the farmer?"

The boy now looked down to the wide hearth and seemed to focus his gaze on the huge black iron dog that supported the set of equally huge fire irons and he didn't raise his head again until Ward said, "Well, don't worry; you're not going back. My man, here' he nodded towards Billy

'was saying only last week he could do with some help;

that he's not getting any younger and was looking for a youngster to do the odds and ends. Weren't you? "

"Oh aye. Oh, yes. Aye, I was that, master. I was that. Definitely I was lookin' out for a youngster."

The boy stared from one to the other and his voice held a note of

natural eagerness when he said, "I can work ... work hard."

"How long were you on the farm?"

"Two years."

"Where did you live before that?"

The head made a movement as if about to droop again, but the thin bony chin jerked slightly as the words came: "The workhouse."

"Had you been there long?"

"Since being four ... I mean, since I was four."

^

Again they both noted the boy's strange way of ^1 speaking.

"How did you get there?"

"I am told that my parents were set upon on their journey. My mother had the sickness; she died, and my father, too."

"What was the sickness?"

"Her chest. But I don't know how my father died. Joe said he knew, but he wouldn't tell me."

"Who was Joe?"

"He was a boy in the workhouse, but he was taken to a farm before I was. He was older."

"Is he still on the farm?"

"No, he ran away twice. He didn't come back the second time."

"Is this the first time you've run away?"

Again the boy's head drooped and the voice was low as he replied,

"No;

three times. "

"And you were whipped when you got back, and tied up?"

"Yes."

"Well, why didn't you go back to the workhouse and tell them of the treatment?"

Both the boy and Billy stared at Ward now, and it was to Billy that Ward made the sharp retort:

"Well, there's laws, you know. They send inspectors to the farms; at least, they're supposed to do. Arthur Meyer has a workhouse boy. I think he's got two and the Masons have one. And as far as I under

stand they've got to be signed for and reports given as to progress."

"Aye, well' Billy's head wagged 'there are work houses an' workhouses, an' some folks would cut your throat for a back-hander.

Anyway, master, where is he gona sleep the night? "

After a moment's thought Ward said, "Put him in the boiler-house; it's nice and warm there; and we'll see about rigging up a room for him above the stables tomorrow." He turned now to the boy and smiled at him, saying, "How does that suit you?"

The boy did not immediately answer; when he did, his voice came as a thin mutter: "You are not just speaking like this, sir, then tomorrow you will change?"

"No, son; I am not just speaking like this. And you will find that I don't say one thing at night and another in the morning. Go with Billy now, and he'll bed you down, and tomorrow we will talk. But I think, for the time being and for your own safety, you must not be seen abroad too much because, as the law stands, you could be sent back.

You understand? "

"Oh yes. Yes, I understand, sir. And ... and thank you."

He stood up now. He was not more than four feet tall, and apparently he was a child of eight or nine he had seemed uncertain of his own age

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