|A soft breeze ruffled the hedges edging the front garden, and the summer sun was blazing hot. Phoebe Wychcote laid down her embroidery for a moment to wipe sweat off her forehead. She liked the warmth up to a point, but today was really uncomfortably hot. She hoped it would cool considerably by the evening, or she would be facing another sleepless night, and that was the last thing she wanted. She was so used to being kept very quiet that all the upheaval of the move and the new country air had completely unsettled her, and she had slept badly the past few nights in consequence.|
‘Still, Father was right that the air is cleaner here,’ she thought, sniffing as she looked around at the vista of rolling moors that surrounded the village. ‘And he and especially Debby both seem happy to be back in the north. It’s funny, but I don’t feel the same love for London as they do for Yorkshire. Perhaps I’ll grow to love it as much as they do. It’s certainly much more beautiful and peaceful.’
At that moment, she caught the sound of a noise from the hedge. Looking across, she saw the branches rustling, and a flash of blue.
‘Who’s there?’ she said warily.
For a moment nothing happened, and then the branches rustled again, and a lanky boy of about eleven crawled out reluctantly. He had a shock of dark hair and rather sulky dark eyes set in a healthy, ruddy face, and wore shorts and a blue shirt liberally streaked with dirt thanks to his activities.
‘‘ow did you know I was there?’ he asked, in an accent every bit as broad as Debby’s.
‘I heard you,’ Phoebe replied, eyeing him with interest. The fact that he was trespassing didn’t bother her at all, she was so pleased to meet someone new. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Reg. Reg Entwistle. What’s yours?’
‘I’m Phoebe Wychcote.’ A smile lit up her thin face. ‘It’s very nice to meet you, Reg. Are you from the village?’
Reg nodded. ‘I live with my aunt, down near t’church. Well, she not really my aunt, she’s my great-aunt, but that’s what I call her.’ He dropped down onto the grass beside her and eyed her wheelchair curiously. ‘You ill?’ Then he added hastily; ‘I don’ mean to be rude or pryin’ or anything.’
‘It’s all right,’ said Phoebe. Secretly, she was surprised and rather pleased to be asked so directly for once. Reg’s matter-of-fact curiosity made a change to the usual awkwardness and embarrassment – or worse, condescending sympathy – that most strangers showed her. ‘I had rheumatic fever when I was about your age and it left me with rheumatoid arthritis. I can’t walk because the joints in my knees are so badly swollen.’
‘That’s awful,’ Reg said, looking troubled. ‘Will you never be able to walk again?’
‘It’s very unlikely,’ Phoebe said shortly. Reg seemed to realise that he had reached sensitive territory, for he promptly changed the subject.
‘Is it true your dad’s a cellist? Aunt says Mrs Tomlin told ‘er that Mr Foster heard from Mrs Barnes that he’s famous.’
It took Phoebe a few seconds to disentangle this. ‘Er, yes, he is a cellist. He is becoming quite well-known now, but he’s not an international star or anything.’
‘The Sodger’ll bag him for the parish concert, I’ll bet,’ Reg said darkly.
‘The what?’ said Phoebe in astonishment.
‘The Sodger. That’s what everyone calls the vicar’s wife, Mrs Hart.’
‘Why?’ Phoebe asked.
‘‘Cause she’s always stridin’ around shoutin’ at folks an’ sticking her nose in where it’s not wanted,’ Reg said, scowling. ‘You tell your dad to watch out for her if she comes marchin’ up here – an’ she will, she won’t leave nobody in peace, specially not new folks. An’ specially not new folks who aren’t Yorkshire, and you’re not, are you?’
‘I’m not, no,’ said Phoebe, beginning to feel alarmed. ‘I was born and grew up in London. But my father was born in Yorkshire. And so was Debby, our housekeeper.’
‘‘Spect you’ll fit right in, then,’ said Reg cheerfully. ‘You like it here?’
‘I haven’t seen much so far,’ Phoebe said. ‘We only came two days ago. But the moors here are beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like them before. London is just streets and buildings and fog hanging over everything, and rubble where the Jerries have bombed things. Tell me more about the village, it was dark when we got here so I couldn’t see much. What is there besides the church?’
Reg shrugged. ‘Same as most villages have got, really. There’s t’church an’ some shops – a butcher’s, a baker’s, a grocer’s, an’ a post office. An’ the inn. If you want anything else you need to go into Garnley, a few miles off. There’s nowt much else here, just houses and farms. And t’village school, where I go.’ He finished with a scowl.
‘Don’t you like school?’ Phoebe asked with a smile. She was electrified by his passionate response.
‘I love it! But they only take folks up to fourteen, an’ nobody’s really interested in learning except me, an’ the teachers are terrible. I was all set to get a place at Garnley Grammar an’ then win a scholarship to university an’ become a teacher like my dad, or even better a doctor like my granddad, only right before the exam a couple of months ago I had to go to hospital an’ get my tonsils an’ adenoids out, so I missed it. So now I’m stuck at t’village school. Aunt won’t pay for me to go to t’Grammar. Says she doesn’t believe in payin’ for an education I don’t need, an’ that I’d be just as well gettin’ a job with Mr Jaycott on his farm or such-like when I’m fourteen, like all the other lads do, an’ start earning wages straight away.’
‘But she would have let you go to the grammar school if you’d got one of the free places?’ Phoebe asked. Reg nodded. ‘How strange!’
Reg shrugged again. ‘She is a bit strange like that. I like her all right, she’s a decent sort, but she don’t understand the way I think, and I don’t understand the way she thinks. Why shouldn’t I go out an’ better meself in life if I’ve got the brains to do it?’
Privately, Phoebe agreed with him, but she had no intention of stirring up any trouble by getting involved in what was obviously an ongoing argument between Reg and his guardian, so she merely said; ‘If it’s what you’re destined for, it will happen somehow.’
‘T’isn’t much comfort,’ Reg said sulkily.
‘Life,’ said Phoebe philosophically, ‘does not always go the way you want it to, I can tell you that from bitter experience. I’m afraid it’s something everyone just has to learn and put up with. But I believe that if you try to make the best of the hand you’ve been dealt in life, you will reap your reward in the end.’
Reg looked at her. ‘You sound so grown up.’
‘I am grown up,’ Phoebe said with a smile. ‘I’m twenty.’
Reg’s jaw dropped. ‘Twenty? Lawks, I thought you were only about fifteen!’
Phoebe tried not to look insulted. Yes, she was very small and thin for her age thanks to the illness, but fifteen? She had her hair up!
It was perhaps fortunate that at that moment the front door opened, and Debby emerged with a glass whose contents were fizzing.
‘Here y’are, Miss Phoebe, your afternoon dose,’ she said, handing it to Phoebe. Then she jumped as she spotted Reg. ‘Who’s this young limb?’
‘This is Reg Entwistle, from the village,’ said Phoebe. ‘Reg, this is Debby.’ She pinched her nose and swallowed the contents of the glass, then shuddered. ‘Urgh!’
Reg watched with some sympathy, having recently gone through similar tortures for his tonsils. ‘Tastes rotten, does it?’
‘Disgusting!’ said Phoebe emphatically, handing the glass back to Debby. ‘I wish he’d put me back on that stuff that tasted like bananas. At least that was edible!’
‘Not likely, while this here rationing’s going on,’ said Debby. ‘Nobody’ll be tasting bananas this year, or next, I’ll warrant.’ She turned back to Reg, eyeing his less-than-pristine attire beadily. ‘And what have you been doing to get yourself in such a mess? Rollin’ down hills?’
Reg went scarlet, and Phoebe looked away to hide her grin. Debby wasted no time, but hustled Reg into the house to have his shirt and shorts brushed clean, and his face and hands washed. He looked somewhat overwhelmed when he re-emerged, but as he was also holding one of Debby’s rock cakes, Phoebe correctly judged that the ordeal hadn’t been too off-putting.
‘Don’t mind Debby, she used to do that to me too,’ she said, smiling. ‘She still does, in fact.’
‘Aunt’s the same, to be honest,’ Reg replied, munching his cake. ‘Debby’s just saved me getting into a row when I get home, ‘s all. An’ I ought to be going, anyway. Guess it’s nearly tea-time.’
Phoebe glanced at her watch and nodded. ‘It’s ten to four.’
‘Well, I’ll be off, then,’ Reg said, somewhat awkwardly. ‘Thanks for talkin’ to me.’
‘Come back any time,’ said Phoebe, trying not to sound too eager. Reg nodded, and then surprised her by giving her a beaming smile that completely transformed his sulky little face, and she realised how pleasant he could look.
‘I’ll be back,’ he said, sauntering to the gate. ‘S’long, Miss Phoebe.’
Phoebe watched him vanish over the edge of Tedder’s Bank feeling happier than she had done for some time. Unless she was very much mistaken, she rather thought she had finally made a friend.
This is the prequel to my Peters universe that I've been posting on LGM. It's in the same universe but doesn't really have much bearing on the main story, just some character background.