WELLDIGGER

 

In the stiff,   cold Sussex winter,  the rough grass propped up the jutting chalk scars in a sloping field for fattening heifers.   Thick hedges of laid hazel surrounded the field,  the branches shooting upright from the horizontal trunks.   Out beyond the gate, a solid four-square brick and granite house stood guard,  its barns and sheds standing behind and around it like soldiers.   Bare beech trees shouldered the scything wind with grey bark bent beneath spidery twigs that rattled between the wind and the pale, hilltop sun.

   Walter Croucher was a tall,  burly,  red faced man in his late fifties with little hair but a fine bristling moustache and spidery long hairs on the backs of his proud hands.   He wore a green tweed suit,  plus fours,  a cap and carried a shoulder high stick which moved in time at his side as he stumped across his field towards the man standing in the corner..   

"This is where I want them."   He gave no ground to formality.    "Two of them side by side,  brick sides and top,   with winch gear and handles."

Michael Talbot was equally large and robust, he stood eye to eye, level with Walter Croucher,  younger and with a better head of hair.   His size though,  was due to hard work and long days digging deep into the earth.

"Why do you want two of them,  one's normally enough?"

"I just do.   How much?"

"Fifty,   each."

"Thirty."

"Fifty"

"You'll have to give me some ground.   Meet me half way."

"Forty five."

"Done."

Michael Talbot turned away and walked towards his caravan.   Its green,  round wooden front brightly painted with red and gold patterns,  copper pots and saucepans hanging from the rails between the large wooden iron rimmed wheels.   The solid horse nodded and puffed steamy breath at him as he spoke to her;

"He's a mean old bastard.   Thought he'd fight harder than that though.   Best get set to work before the ground starts getting hard.   Two months they'll take and it's September now."

He led the horse around in an arc and then up to the top of the field.   Untethering him from the cart he attached a reign to a beech tree.

"This'll be home for a while old fellow."

Michael unpacked the caravan.   Picks,  shovels,  tethering ropes,  chains,  hammers,  saws,  all laid in a pile behind the caravan.   He took a large wooden stake and a heavy wooden hammer rimmed with steel.  The stake had a sharp point and,  at the other end a steel rim with eyes rivetted to it.   Micheal dropped the hammer and holding the stake in front of him between both clasping hands he raised his arms slightly above shoulder height and then brought the stake down hard and fast.   It sank about a foot into the ground.   He straightened it and then picked up the hammer,  measured his distance and brought it down full force,  precisely in the centre of the stake.   His game was to reduce the exposed portion of the wooden stake from four to two feet in four blows.  Often he would succeed,  sometimes he'd allow himself extra swings,  but only if he knew of some hardness in the soil.  The 'game'  was more than fun,  it told him about what he would meet as he started digging,  what the structure of the ground was like beneath the topsoil.  By the time he'd swung the hammer for the fourth time he knew that his original estimate was accurate;  two months and no less.

                *          *          *

From behind the gap between the doors that hung on the wooden barn the pale blue eyes watched the torso across the field.  Heavy oak doors hung one above the other on rusty iron pegs driven hard through posts and fastened with bolts on the other side.  Just below the lower catch,  a wood catch lifted by a piece of cord from the inside and by a peg on the outside,  the eyes glared in the half light.

"Have you fed those pigs yet?"  curly hair bounced as the voice caught her by surprise.

"I was just doing it father.  I came in to get some feed."

The old man moved toward the gap and peered through,  the girl moved away as he drew near.

"Collecting feed eh?"  Her eyes were fixed on his brown withered teeth as he leered through the crack in the door at the field and the welldigger at the other end of it.

"Just collecting feed?"  His voice now thoughtful.

Her eyes broke away from his mouth.  He turned towards her.

"Well?"  his tone was cross   "get on with it."

"Yes,  yes Father."

He returned his eye to her door crack.   "Dig 'em deep my lad,  dig 'em deep."  he muttered.

Across the field a wooden gantry had been erected on the ground.  Its four oak struts rising twenty five feet and each a foot square.   A steel band wrapped around their meeting point and a group of hooks hung from the middle, above the ground.

The bronzed,  half naked body of Michael Talbot bent and flexed in the morning glint of light.  The frame was almost complete and around it in a square he drove four long iron pegs deep into the ground.   To the eye at the top of each he attached a pulley.   Between each of the pulleys and the legs of the frame he drove another iron peg.   He threaded four more pulleys with rope and then attaching all of them to his belt removed his boots and socks and scampered up the wooden leg nearest to him.   He was confident at the task,  like a monkey collecting bananas.  He sat on the top and detached the pulleys from his belt and,  swinging underneath held on with one hand and attached the first pulley with the other.  Now with a rope looped to put a foot into the others were easily attached and his descent a matter of dynamics.

"Dig it deep my lad,  then start on the other and dig that deep as well."   Hearing a sound Walter Croucher turned sharply.

"You still here?  Get on and feed those pigs.   Then get indoors and get my breakfast."

"Yes Father."

Opening the doors the farmer left the barn with a piece of timber in his hand. Shutting them tight against the frame he slid the wood inside the wooden hasps that were made to receive it.

"Collecting feed," he muttered  "must think I'm stupid."

He wandered across the yard and into the house.  The blond bobby haired girl was at the stove.

"You're just like your mother, spend your life dreaming of nothing better than what other folks do.  Is that breakfast on?"

"Yes Father."

"Hurry up then."

"Yes Father."

                  *          *          *

At the edge of the field beyond the caravan ran a copse of hazel trees,  there were some beech in the middle but it was mainly hazel and regularly harvested for hurdles and sticks.  It ran from one gate post all the along the outside of the field that led down to the barn.  It's edge was laid and stock proof.  Bobby haired blond,  breathed quietly as she crept through the thickest part and then crouched among the brown thin sticks at the top of the thicket and watched Michael Talbot working. She wasn't used to being even this close to men, other than her father.  Often she was too close to him.  Sometimes she wished that she had been brought up in the town, at least there were enough people in towns to make meeting boys and then one day, men, a possibility. Out here there was no-one but her father, the pigs and a few visitors from round about. No-one for miles.   She watched his every move,  looking away whenever he was about to face the oak at the edge of the copse and release some of the endless fluid he seemed to drink.  All the time she was there she thought she was unobserved, thought that the Welldigger hadn't noticed her,  thought that her footsteps had been silent,  that the leaves hadn't rushed about her shoes as she tip toe'd through them. The Welldigger concluded that to make her aware that he knew she was there would be to frighten her away.  But he felt her pesence each Wednesday that she was there.  He was sure it was Wednesday because he counted the days after he saw her dressed up and ready for church.

 

On each of those Wednesdays she spent most of the day watching him and he, knowing that she was doing so.  Once he almost called out to her at lunchtime, thinking that she might enjoy some of the venison he carved off the haunch.  'Blackbirds don't come back if you frighten them' he thought 'they find a different tree' and,  biting his lower lip he ate alone.

 

Each week she saw less and less of him as the first of the two wells got deeper.  First it was from the knee upward then the next week above the waist and soon after that just the top of his head.  By now the work required constant use of the gantry and winch.  Attached to each of the pulley ropes was large flat bucket.  Each one looked heavy when full and was hoisted up to the top of the gantry.  An iron weight would be placed on the end of the rope at the bottom of the well until all four were full and at the top of the gantry.  She knew when he was about to emerge because the fourth one arrived above the surface.  He was always a moment or two behind it.  She knew his routine by now.  In the morning he'd dig and raise the earth and in the afternoon he'd send down two buckets of cement, a platform of bricks and then, what seemed to her to be a large wheel but in four parts.  Every hour or so he'd emerge to collect bricks and cement,  drink some water and then disappear again.  

 

On the fourth wednesday she lay looking up at the sky,  a long piece of meadowgrass between her teeth,  and a day dream in her mind.  She waited until she felt it was about time for the fourth bucket to arrive before she even turned around to look. The four buckets were in place and she waited for her first glimpse of the half naked man that day.  Her dream had been about his chest,  his shoulders and whether or not he was in posession of a larger frame than her father's.  Certainly there was more bulk and more energy in this man's chest and his stomach was flatter but she just couldn't tell.  She knew that these matters were decided mainly through height and it impossible to tell which of them was taller without seeing them together.

 

As she realised that he had still not emerged she sat up,  head and shoulders above the hazel stumps.  She wanted to get up and go over but decided to wait.

"I'll count to sixty, if he's still not up I'll go over."  she said quietly.

"One two three ..."  she got to forty five.

"Hello?" her voice quavered slightly.  "Are you there?  Can you hear me?"  At the brickwork well head she paused before the shaft could be in view. Tilting her head back so that she couldn't see down she moved her body up to the edge. Her eyes closed and her throat rippled her hand approached her mouth as if she were about to cough and her eyes appeared glassy. Eyes still closed she slowly lowered her head, one hand clasping the other in front of her breast. Slowly her lids cracked to let in a little light,  then as she forced them open she jumped back as his head appeared suddenly in front of her and he gave a loud dog-like bark.

"Oh, Why did you do that?  You made me jump out of my skin. I was worried," she looked down  "thought something had gone wrong," calmness returning to her voice  "that you might be hurt or something."

"I didn't mean to frighten you I just heard you calling and, well, I just thought ... never mind."

"No what did you just think?  I've good reason to want to know, nearly jumped out of my skin."

"I just thought that you might not come near if you knew that I was alright."

"Why would I not come near?"  her voice adopting a tone of injured morality.

"Well I just thought that... well"

"Yes?"

"Well you haven't for the last few weeks,  and you might run away."

"Oh" a crestfallen tone. "Oh, you knew."

"Yes, never knew where your father was though so I didn't want to call out in case I got you into trouble."

"No, he's at market.  Always goes to market on Wednesdays."  She paused "I'd better go, I'm glad you're alright."

"Why?"

"Well father wouldn't like it and..."

"You've said yourself he's away so he'll not know."

"Well perhaps for a few minutes, but no more."

"Right."  He hesitated, looking at the ground in front of her.  "What's your name?"

"Rebecca." she was blushing "what's yours?"

"Michael.  Michael Talbot."

They sat in the grass against the wheel of his caravan.

"How deep will you have to dig?"

"I should think I'll have to go another fifteen feet before I reach the head of water."

"Will you brick it all the way down?"

"Yes I will."

There was a pause.

"Why do you start with the bricks at the top?"

"Well for one thing I need to make certain that the sides don't fall in as I dig,  and there isn't another way of doing that.  I hear that some people use new methods, concrete liners and the like, but I find brick the best.  The other thing is that I need to keep all of the water out of the well."

She laughed "But surely you want water in a well."

"Yes but only pure water from a spring or water table underground.  Water down there has been filtered by working its way down through all the soil, stones and the sand.  Without that brickwork, why every time it rained water would wash into the well as I dug it and it would drag all the rubbish from the surface with it."

She was gazing at him.

"I've never been this close to a man before,  not alone anyway."

"Oh.  Oh I see"  his eyes turned downward then looking up again  "I hope you don't find it an ordeal."

"No- heavens no, I hope I didn't give that impression.  It's just that my father would be angry.  He comes home from the market and he's always a bit full of, well the public house and his fellows.  He's not nice when he's like that.  He's a, he's a good man really, it's just that, well since my mother died, you see I sometimes think he blames me for it."

"For what?"

"For his, I suppose it's unhappiness really, the things he does, its just unhappiness. I think he misses her."

"Will you have something to eat?"

"I best be quick, but, well yes.  Yes please."

After lunch she stood and brushed herself down.  Her figure at its best in profile and against the light.

"Will I see you next Wednesday?"

"If he's gone to market as usual. Oh and if you'd like to of course."

"I should like to very much."

               *          *          * 

As the sun set behind his caravan Michael lit his pipe and sat against the same wheel looking at the last scorching rays. He could hear an owl somewhere off to his left and behind him, in the distance he could just make out the call of a Partridge. A distinctive sound, a partridge calling its mate, always sounded to him like a woman calling for help.

Below him, in the farmhouse, Rebecca was moving between the stove and the dining table.

"How many dumplings will you have father?"

"Just keep going 'til I say stop." She scooped them swiftly from caserole to plate.

"That's enough woman,  don't drown the meat,  what meat there is I mean,  can't be much more than a sheep's cheek in the whole pot. I don't know what you mean serving a dish like this to a man what's been hard at work all day."

"Sorry father."

"Well you will be,  that's all I can say. You'll be sorry so's you learn this time."

"Yes father."

"Get my drink."

"Yes father."

She got his jug of cider and put it next to him she hesitated and then left, slowly, she made her way halfway down the side of the table and sat down.

"Aren't you going to pour it?"

"Yes father, sorry father." She got up and went to her father's side and poured some of the cider into his tankard.

"That's better."  He took a large swig.  "Whatever it is that's on your mind you'll forget it before the night's through lass."

"Yes father." She looked down as she went back to her place. 

"What mischeif did you make today?"

She looked shocked

"Nothing father,  just made supper and tidied up."

"Feed pigs?"

"Yes father, and the chickens." He held his plate up to his chin and slurped the last of his food.

"Don't think much of that." He reached forward and tipped the last of the contents of the caserole into his bowl.  "Why do I have to put up with pig's swill for food? Why should I? You have everything you want, a home, warm fires in the evening. If your mother were alive, she'd make me strap your backside."

She looked up at him, her brows furrowed and then she looked harder than ever at her plate as if to become invisible through concentration.

"No Father, she wouldn't, she always tried to stop you."

"Talking back are you?" He swigged from his mug. "The only time you pay attention is when I've dealt with you." 'Michael would stop you' she thought. 'Stop you from hurting me'.

"You're a lazy bitch, 'don't know why I keep you."  There was a slur in his voice. She gulped down the last of her food and, still chewing, started to rise and gather up the plates in her arms.

"I'll get pudding."

She left the room as he stood, removing the belt from his trousers and placed it on the table next to his place then walked across to the window and stood looking out.

She returned with a tray  "It's apple crumble father" she hesitated  as she stood over his place at the table and saw the belt "your favourite."

"Then I'll have to wait until afterwards before I deal with you."

He turned and saw her burying her head in concentrated eating, her bowl shaking as she held it. 'Michael would sort you out, will sort you out,  one day.'

"I've not done anything father."

"Oh yes you have" there was a sting in his voice "You've put nothing into this house, you've just taken. You eat food and use wood and give me nothing in return," he rose "you're lazy, you talk back, you take no trouble over this house- my home and" he walked round to her side "you've been lusting after 'welldigger." His face lowered to her's. His voice was even and gravelly.

"I'll have you up if you don't mind."

"But I haven't finished my supper."

"Well I've finished mine" he steadied himself against the table. "and you know better than to answer back, up lass up."

"What have I done father?"

"Get up when I say." He roared, grabbing her arm.

"Your hurting me."

"Ay" he dragged her to her feet and pulled her to the end of the table  "now get your head down and keep still or it'll be worse for you" he pushed her over the table and then went to collect his belt. Her eyes followed him "hold on to the sides and don't move."

"No please don't father."

"Shut up." He pulled her skirt up over her back and tore at her underwear until it lay at her feet, her buttocks, still marked from his previous assaults, taughtly exposed to the evening air. He curled the belt around his rigid, hairy fist, raised his arm and then began to beat the girl. She matched him, scream for blow and the sound carried across the field like a partridge calling its mate.

Her tear stained face hidden in her arms she felt the wealing belt as it reddened her.

"I'll give you the fruits of your lust you little minx." The belt kept slashing at her and his breath lurched through his nose bringing the stringy contents with it and onto his unshaven face.

"This is only what you deserve, what you need." Sometimes the belt hit her thighs and sometimes the small of her back.  He wrenched the dress higher to facilitate beating her in the small of it, they were the blows that seemed to produce the loudest howls. He concentrated his efforts for six heavy slashes, the belt whirling through the air like a windmill, her screams changing to a low growl in the last two. Then the belt fell limp at his side and he placed it on the table whilst moving round behind her. Her buttocks were crimson and flicked with touches of bright red blood. The small of her back was pink and swollen black in places.

"I'll give you lust, now stay there and don't struggle." Taking one shoulder of her dress in each hand he ripped it, the buttons flying around the room. She screamed, gripping the edges of the table with white knuckled hands. As his trousers fell he grabbed a chunk of her hair in one hand and roughly pushed himself up inside her with the other.

"Father please.  Please" He picked up the belt and wrapped it around his hand again then raising it high into the air slashed it down against the length of her leg.

"I told you, no noise, now shut up." She tried to muffle her noise but the pain stopped her and her hair flashed through the air with her screams, she found some silence biting her own finger. He was slashing the belt down both sides of her body as though he were riding a race horse.

"See you're loving it now, I can feel you are, you're loving it you filthy slut. I'm just giving you what you want, what you need."

Her noise became louder, more desperate as he gyrated towards his dervish climax. He moved faster and faster inside her, the belt beating her still. He grunted and, almost out of control for a moment finished, falling across her slightly. An audible wince escaped her tear stained lips as he collected himself together watching her as she tried to get up, one hand in the small of her back and the other pushing against the table. Trying to pull her clothes around her, her finger dropping little splashes of blood from between the teeth marks. Her father was tucking himself in at the mantle, reaching for his pipe.

"Get up to my bed and wait for me, I've got a taste for using t'other end later."

                    *          *          *

Rebecca stayed away from the welldigger for the next two Wednesdays.  On the third she approached the site.

"Hello stranger, where'ver you been?"

"I've not been well, hurt my back."

"Oh, are you better now?"

"Yes I am thank you."

"How did you hurt it?"

She studied him for a moment.

"I,  fell over, just bruised, nothing serious."

"You've still got some trouble walking."

"Only a bit, I can pick things up now and sit down and once I've got going in the morning it's not so bad."

"Well have a sit down now."

He motioned to the ground by the wheel.

"No I'd better..."

"I'm sorry, stupid of me, I'll get a box or something."

He went into the caravan his voice calling behind him "Will you have some lunch?"

He reappeared smiling.

"I'd like that,  thank you."

She sat down on the box he'd placed for her.

"You've done a lot, it looks finished."

"Yes it is just about, just the head gear and winch to install then I'll start on the other one."

He was staring at her.

"Other one?"

She stared back, gazing into his eyes.

"Yes, your father's having me sink two. He wants another one over there."

He shuffled closer to her.

"Why does he want two?"

Their thighs almost touching.

"Said something about different water tables, both drying up now and then. It's no matter, he's paying by the pole, makes no odds to me."

His hand on his leg above hers.

"When will you start on the other?"

His hand, hawk like.

"Tomorrow I should think."

"How long will it take?"

His Index finger clawing against his own trousers.

"Should be quicker than this one,  the table's nearer the surface."

Her hand turning upward, open, supine on the box amongst the sides of her skirts.

"Where will you go afterwards?"

His clawing slowing.

"I don't know. I hear there's an estate near Naseby need water but more of a tank than well."

Finger leaving thigh.  Hawk above prey.

"I think I'd rather you stayed."

His shoulders turning towards her.

"But I'm a traveler."

Hawk falling to earth, into prey.

"I know you are" voice trembling "but people can change."

Prey welcoming hawk.

"I think your father and I mightn't get along forever."

Her small cold hand wrapped in his calloused ham.  Her brow furrowing as eyes became glassy. Staring through the shear sheen of tears, trying to focus.

"It's no good." She turned away. Her hand still held.

"What do you mean?  How can you know? How can you say that?"

"Because I know me." Her hand raised to his lips. She turns her back towards him, tears taking over her countenance, bending her neck, shaking her frame, washing their hands.

"I'm not right for you." Sobs punctuating her words, misery her thoughts.

"I don't have to travel, we don't know how we might be. I've grown fond, fond of you. I care. We've talked, I've not sat down and just talked with anyone before"

"Don't" Sobs robbing breath "don't care for me.  You won't, not when you know me."

"Why?  How can you know that?  I've a right to decide for myself."

"You won't want me, not when you know me.  He's seen to that."

"What?" his a pleading tone.

"What I am." desperate sobs.

"What's he seen to?"

"He's seen to me," urgent "my future," louder "my life," a shout "my forever." Quieter  "He's done for me." another shout "I'm not fresh. I'm no longer mine to give."

"What d'you.....?" Voice flat, exhausted. A hawk clasps the prey. Full lips brush the tears from the fingers as a meaning finds its home.

"I see."

Silence in the motion of their first kiss. Just lips on teary fingers.

"Say something."

"Your father has a deal of reckoning to do when his time comes."

"Ay. Doesn't help us though."

"Doesn't it?"

"No, I'm still unfit, unclean, this white dress. It's a lie."

He leant back and focused upon her.

"You can't answer for your father as well."  His resolve stiffening with his grip, girded about her hand. "Should you decide to marry, then your husband, he'll be the one to tell you, he'll tell you on the night of your wedding.  Make it clear whether you were right to wear a virgin's dress, he'll know and without speaking he'll tell you."

Her tears, the silver salted water that splashed upon her fingers, then on their fingers, were crushed and rubbed, first between his lips and her hand and then brushed like shared wine between their faces as the kiss that broke the walls around her licked at their salty love.

 

*          *          *

The second well was to be shallower. Since the Digger knew the soil, the lie of the land and the intimate contours of the table beneath them he knew, almost to the foot exactly how deep he would have to go. Consequently the gantry would not need to be so high, so sturdy or constructed in the same way. He used two of the oak posts to form the winch points but where the other two had been were steel wires stretched taught into the field to iron posts driven many feet into the ground. They then stretched inward, past the site of the new well and there they were fastened to each other by means of large bolts. A second steel hawser between and fastened to each of the oak posts prevented them from moving outwards, away from each other. The construction was more appropriate for the uneven ground and allowed for easier changes of winches and lifting tackle.

Michael worked steadily and quickly, by the first Wednesday he was more than six feet down.

"You seem to be hurrying" she told him "Do you want to get away from me?"

"No, but the soil's getting stiffer each day now, the cold's getting into it and the days are getting shorter, I need to get it finished."

"How long?"

"How long what?"

"How many more Wednesdays have we got?"

"Before what?"

"Before you have to leave."

"Two."

"Oh."

He turned to her and took her face in his hands.

"You remember what I said about your husband being the man to decide about your, your, purity?"

"Yes."

"Well I, I don't have much, but I can work and earn and I've been thinking."

"Yes"

"Well, I could maybe take a farm, smallholding, rent something, man owes me a favour on t'other side of village, I know he'd be pleased to rent some land out, I could, well maybe we could, well, spend more time."

"Yes, that would be good."

"Oh I'm not good with words, they've never been friendly to me, always teased me like clever kids, poking fun and, well what I mean is you could maybe, well rent it with me, you know, move, move in."

"What are you saying Michael?"

"I'm saying that I know what I think about you and what your father's done and you won't have to wait to find out, I can tell you, tell you now, you see I know you."

She closed her eyes as the tremble ran through her.

"I don't think you can mean that."

"I do. I promise you I do, every word of it. But I understand if you want to think about it, a lifetime can be a long time. You'll need to think."

"I've already thought. Thought about nothing else since you arrived."

"'Becca, are you saying yes, or, or no?"

"I'm saying that you don't know what you're getting into, that you'll regret it, very likely and you'll want something else soon enough. But I couldn't say no. Not with how I feel for you."

His face moved towards hers.

"We've a bargain then."

"Yes."

His head bent towards hers.

"One we'll seal with a kiss."

"Yes."

 

                           *          *          *

The weak, late summer sun warmed them as they chased around the caravan, catching each other, then letting go. Her giggles as unfamiliar to her as to him, his encircling arms posessing a warmth and love she started to crave, their kisses as warm as their salty brows.

"'Becca."

"Yes?"

"After I've gone, wait for me, here by the wells. The first Wednesday, I'll be back for you. If you're not here then the following Wednesday, then the one after. I'll be back every market day 'til he's not around, 'til you're ready."

"He'll not let me go."

"Then don't tell him."

"Yes."

"He'll not touch you again. Not ever. If he does then I'll cut his heart out."

 

                           *          *          *

 

"I bought something for you lass"

"Did you father?"

"Ay. It's in that drawer, you best fetch it."

She rose from the dining table and went to the drawer. Hesitating for a moment she opened it and stood still as she looked down.

"Bring it here if you would."

"Yes father." Her hands dipped inside the drawer and took out the three foot riding crop with a leather thong at one end.

"Now why would I want that father?"

She felt her arm snatched out of her control from behind, the crop falling into her father's hand as he pushed her across the room, forcing her over the table.

"I'll show you why you want it, what it's for."

The wind killed her cries within a few dark yards of the house.

 

                           *          *          *

"You've finished then?"

"Ay, about. Water's about ten feet down. Just winch gear to fix on."

"How deep is it?"

"A couple of poles is water."

"Ay. I'll send my daughter to get cash. I'll be back."  The man turned and walked away.

At the barn he found his daughter.

"I need you to go over to the William's farm and borrow some sacks. Half a dozen should do. Tell him I'll let him have them back on Wednesday."

"We've got some sacks father. I saw them by the kennel."

"They're no good for what I want them, now get off with you and don't ask questions. You'll be back by supper time if you get moving."

"Yes father. But what about lunch."

"I'll have some cheese. Now get off with you."

"Yes father."

Half turning her head towards the welldigger as she went she scurried out of the drive and up the dirt road over the hill.

Her father watched her as she disappeared.

 

Her steps grew lighter and quickened as the pain inflicted all over her back the night before grew less distinct. She nodded to the bushes and trees as though saying goodbye to each of them. Within a couple of hours the bobby haired girl arrived at the gate of the William's farm. She walked through and across to the shed in the yard. Smoke was billowing from the chimney. She peered inside. Bill Williams was bent, at work at his anvil.

"Mr Williams."

The old man turned from his anvil.

"Oh hello lass. What brings you all this way?"

"Father asked  if he could borrow half a dozen sacks. Said he'd let you have them back at market."

"Sacks. The old goat's going daft. He bought some last week at market."

"I thought he had some. Anyway he told me to come and ask."

"No matter, help yourself. There's some in the corner. Did you come all this way just for them."

"Yes I did."

"Well you'll stop and have lunch with us while you're here?"

"No I'd better get back and I don't want to be any trouble."

"It'd be no trouble and May wouldn't forgive me if I let you go back without. Now come on, it's about ready I reckon."

"Oh well, thatÕs verykind."

"I do lass, I do." He walked towards her and, taking her arm, led the way to the house.

"Mary, May,  look who's here, it's Rebecca, she's going to stop for lunch."

Mary Williams emerged from the house touching the back of her hair as she came.

"Rebecca, how lovely to see you. May will be pleased; she's missed you a lot."

"Well father's kept me busy."

"He's a devil, that father of yours. Ought to let you out more regular, 's'not natural, locked up there with him."

Footsteps from within announced their daughter's emergence.

"Beccy." she ran across the yard and the girls hugged. May shrieked slightly and Rebecca winced  "Oh Beccy, it's so good to see you."

The four went into the house and sat around the table.

                                    *        *        *

"She'll be back with your money about supper time, then you can be off."

"Right."

"All finished then is it?"

"Ay."

"Good."

Walter Croucher walked around the little site, the caravan, the tools, the horse gazing.

"I'll make no charge for the grazing you've had."

"Right."

"Fine animal that."

"Yes."

"Well?"

"Yes?"

"Show us then."

What?"

"The well, show us it working, the water, got to taste it before I pay for it."

"Oh Ay."

"I've just got to attach hooks to 'chain and take out the top step. It'll trip the bucket up if I don't."

"Ay."

Michael leaned over the brick edge of the well and fastened a hook to the chain then leaned right into the well and started to work the top iron rung loose. Walter Croucher silently picked up the heavy wooden hammer from behind him.

"Oh it's stuck fast. I'll need a lever."

The hammer quickly fell in line behind the farmer's leg as the welldigger got a long pole and leaned over the well again and loosened the iron rung.

"That's it." He put the pole down behind him and leaned in again, his head disappearing from view.

"Now I've got you."

He started to straighten, his head rising out of the well just as the hammer splintered into the back of his skull, leaving him unconscious, bleeding, near dead across the wall he had built. The farmer pulled the welldigger's head up by his hair and looked at the mess of blood and smashed bone.

"It'll be the deepest grave a man ever dug himself."

He tied a heavy rock between the hands and, lifting the legs, tipped the body into the well.

"A whole pole of lovely fresh water above your feet, keep you out of sight. Good job I've another to draw water from."

He harnessed the horse,   packed the tools and machinery into the caravanand led them both down to the dew pond at the bottom of the next field. Taking a handful of grass he set the horse chewing as he led it into the centre of the pond, then raising his shotgun to the animal's eye, blew its brains over its neck and watched it crumple beneath the water. A gallon of paraffin liberally sprinkled over the caravan and a soaked torch soon removed the remaining evidence of the welldigger's life. Just four steel wheel rings and some pots and pans to sling into the pond the next day.

 

                           *           *           *

"Where's Mi... the welldigger?"

"Gone."

"Where?"

"How would I know?"

"Well you must have seen him."

"No. What's it matter?"

"Well I just wondered. Got used to seeing him around."

"Well don't worry about it, just feed 'pigs."

"Yes father."

"S'pose I'll have to take that contraption down. Here, come on, you can give me a hand."

"Yes father."

The two walked across the field to the wells, an axe in his hand and trepidation in her heart.

"It's these wires we've got to cut, then the whole lot'll fall down. Can drag it away after that."

"Why didn't he take it all?"

"Lazy.  All the same these lads, get their money and clear off fast as ever they can. Now stand clear while I cut this one."

The farmer tested the tension of the wire as the bobby haired girl stood back.  Feeling the head of the axe against the thumb of his right hand, clasping the sculptured end in his left he eyed the wire and swung the axe around his head, his right hand sliding easily up the shaft to meet the left as it swung around him. The first blow nearly cut the steel rope, a few strands left. The farmer moved forward to test the tension again. He pushed against the wire a little timidly. As he did so the fastening creaked and then suddenly freed itself from the iron post in the ground, the wire whipping up like an angry snake.   The tension was taken by the beam falling into the well as the wire coiled itself about the farmerÕs arms, as though with a life of its own, as though hunting revenge and then snaked back,  plunging into the black water.

Rebecca rushed forward calmly removing her father's belt and wrapping it around one of his upper arms, then a piece of wire around the other, to slow the bleeding.

 

                           *          *          *

 

"Get the water from the left hand well, won't  you." The farmer told her.

"Yes father, the left hand well."

"Oh lass I don't feel right. I feel like I'm dying."

"Don't be daft father."

"Don't call me daft young lady."

"Why not father?"

"'cos I'm your father and I deserve more respect."

"But father, you're no use."

He sat, red faced and powerless in the chair.

"After all a man with no hands or forearms isn't much use to anyone."

The stubs that hung beneath his shoulders flinched involluntarily.

"I kept you long enough."

"I'll get your water father, the left hand well."

"Ay, and make sure mind."

"Yes father" she called behind her.

 

At the well she sat, leaning against the wall. It was Wednesday and she would sit and wait quietly for her welldigger as she had for the previous Wednesdays.

"IÕm not waiting Michael, I know where you are."  Around the well rested the rings from the wheels of his wagon.   She rose heavily and

"Draw the water from the left hand well" she said aloud   ÒWe both know why, donÕt we father?Ó   She drew a wooden bucket full from it.

"Mine" she said

Then she drew a steel bucket full from the other one.

"FatherÕs" she said.

Looking up at the hills above she sighed.

"Perhaps next Wednesday,  or the Wednesday after father will be joining you and you can tell him our plans yourself."