Simon took Mr. Sandal to the station in the afternoon, and when they had gone Bee said: “If you want to avoid the social life this afternoon I’ll hold the fort for you. I have the books to do, anyhow. Perhaps you would like to take out one of the horses with Eleanor. She has gone back to the stables, I think.”
There were few things in life that Brat would have liked so much as to go riding with Eleanor, but there was one thing that he wanted to do more. He wanted, on this day when Pat Ashby should have come into his inheritance, to walk over Tanbitches hill by the path that Pat had taken on the last day of his life.
“I want to go with Brat,” Ruth said; and he noticed that Jane lingered to hear the result of this proposition, as if she too might have come. But Bee quashed the suggestion. Brat had had enough of his family for a little, she said.
“But he is going with Eleanor!” protested Ruth.
But Brat said no. He was going walking by himself.
He avoided the avenue, in case that he might meet visitors bound for the house, and went down through the paddocks to the road. In one of the paddocks that bordered the avenue Eleanor was lunging a bay colt. He stood under the trees and watched her; her unruffled patience, her mastery of the puzzled and resentful youngster; the way she managed, even at the end of a long rein, to reassure him. He wondered if that doctor fellow knew anything about horses.
The turf on Tanbitches delighted him. He had not had turf like that underfoot since he was a child. He walked slowly upward, smelling the grassy smell and watching the great cloud shadows flying before the wind. He bore away from the path towards the crown of beeches on the hill-top. If he went up there he would be able to see the whole slope of the countryside to the cliff edge; the countryside that Pat Ashby had shared with the larks.
As he came level with the green clump of bushes and young trees that marked the old quarry, he found an old man sitting in its shelter eating solid slabs of bread and jam, and gave him a greeting as he passed.
“Proud, a’nt yu!” said the old man tartly.
Brat swung on his heel and stared.
“Wonderful dentical and Frenchy furrin parts makes folks, surely.”
He took another large bite and surveyed Brat from under the battered felt of his hat.
“Dunnamany nests you’d never seen but fur me.”
“Abel!” said Brat.
“Well, that’s summat,” said the old man grudgingly.
“Abel!” said Brat, and sat down beside him. “Am I glad to see you!”
“Adone do!” Abel said to his dog, who came out from under the spread of his coat to sniff at the newcomer.
“Abel!” He could hardly believe that yesterday’s occupant of a newspaper morgue was here in the flesh.
Abel began to exhibit signs of gratification at this undoubted enthusiasm for his society, and allowed that he had recognised him afar off. “Lame, are yu?”
“Just a bit.”
“Weren’t never one to make a pucker,” Abel said, approving his laconic acceptance of bad luck.
Brat propped his back against the stout wooden fencing that kept the sheep from the quarry face, took out his cigarette case, and settled down for the afternoon.
In the hour that followed he learned a great deal about Pat Ashby, but nothing that helped to explain his suicide. Like everyone else, old Abel had been shocked and surprised by the boy’s death, and now felt that his disbelief in a suicidal Patrick had been vindicated.
Patrick “weren’t never one to make a pucker,” no matter how “tedious bad” things were.
The old shepherd walked with him to the beeches, and Brat stayed there and watched man and dog grow small in the distance. Long after they were indistinguishable he stayed there, soothed by the loneliness and the great “hush” of the wind in the beech trees. Then he followed them down into the green plain until he came to the path, and let it lead him back over the hill to Clare.
As he came down the north slope to the road, a familiar “clink-clink” came up to him on the wind. For a moment he was back on the Wilson ranch, with the forge glowing in the thin mountain air and — what was her name? — Cora waiting for him beyond the barn when he was tidied up after supper. Then he remembered where the forge was: in that cottage at the foot of the hill. It was early yet. He would go and see what an English smithy looked like.
It looked very like the Wilson one, when at last he stood in the doorway, except that the roof was a good deal lower. The smith was alone, his mate being no doubt an employee and subject to a rationing of labour, and he was fashioning horse-shoes. He looked up as Brat darkened the doorway, and gave him a greeting without pausing in his work. Brat watched him for a little in a companionable quiet, and then moved over to work the bellows for him. The man looked up and smiled. He finished what he was doing at the moment and then said: “I didn’t know you against the light. I’m unaccountable glad to see you in my place again, Mr. Patrick.”
“Thanks, Mr. Pilbeam.”
“You’re a deal handier with that thing than you used to be.”
“I’ve earned my living at it since I saw you last.”
“You have? Well, I’ll be ——!” He took a half-made shoe red-hot from the furnace and was about to resume work when he changed his mind and held it out with a grin to Brat. Brat accepted the challenge and made a good job of it, Mr. Pilbeam acting as mate with critical approval.
“Funny,” he said, as Brat plunged the shoe into the water, “if any Ashby was to earn his living at this job it ought to have been your brother.”
“You never showed much interest.”
“And did Simon?”
“There was a time when I couldn’t keep him out of this place. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t going to make, from a candlestick to gates for the avenue at Latchetts. Far as I remember, all he ever made was a sheep-crook, and that not over-well. But he was always round the place. It was a craze of his for the whole of a summer.”
“Which summer was that?”
“Summer you left us, it was. I’d misremember about it, only he was here seeing us put an iron on a cartwheel the day you ran away. I had to shoo him home for his supper.”
Brat considered the shoe he had made, while Mr. Pilbeam made ready to call it a day.
“I ought to hang that up,” Mr. Pilbeam said, nodding at Brat’s handiwork, “and label it: Made by Patrick Ashby of Latchetts. And I couldn’t make a better one myself,” he added handsomely.
“Give it to old Abel to nail on his door.”
“Bless you, old Abel wouldn’t have cold iron on his threshold. Keep his visitors away.”
“Oh. Friendly with ‘them,’ is he?”
“Do all his washing up and keep his house clean, if you’d believe all you hear.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Brat said. And set out for Latchetts.
So Simon had an alibi. Simon had been nowhere near the cliffs that afternoon. He had never been out of the Clare valley.
And so that was that.
On his way home up the ride between the paddocks he met Jane. Jane had every appearance of “hanging around,” and he wondered if it was to intercept him that she lingered there. She was talking to Honey and her foal, and made no effort to efface herself as she had done hitherto at his approach.
“Hullo, Jane,” he said, and joined in the intercourse with Honey to give her time. Her small pale face had flushed, and she was evidently struggling with a quite unusual emotion.
“It’s about time we were going home to wash up,” he suggested at last, as she seemed no nearer speech.
She dropped her hand from Honey’s head and turned to face him, braced for effort.
“I wanted to say something to you. Do you mind?”
“Something you want me to do for you?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. It’s just that I wasn’t very nice to you when you came home from America, and I want to apologise.”
“Oh, Jane,” he said, wanting to take the small brave figure in his arms.
“It wasn’t because I wanted to be horrid to you,” she said, anxious that he should understand. “It was because — it was because ——”
“I know why it was.”
“Yes, of course. It was a very natural thing to feel.”
“In fact, all things considered, it does you credit.”
“Then you’ll accept my apology?”
“I accept your apology,” Brat said gravely, and they shook hands.
She did not immediately put her arm through his as Ruth would have done. She walked beside him in a grown-up fashion, talking politely about the chances of Honey’s foal in the market, and what it should be called. The matter of the name was such an absorbing and exciting one that presently she forgot her self-consciousness, so that by the time they reached the house she was chattering unreservedly.
As they crossed the wide gravel sweep, Bee came to the door and stood there watching them come.
“You are going to be late for dinner, you two,” she said.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01