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Walnut Wisdom: Episode 4

Alan wakes up for the first time in his new bedroom, and after a little mishap, is given a job to do.

Arthur Loosley's story concerns a young boy who is evacuated from the city to live on a farm during World War Two. To read earlier chapters please click on Walnut Wisdom in the menu on this page.

Alan woke early next morning. The sun, still low in the sky, was shining through the small bedroom window, directly into his eyes. He didn't know if that was what woke him, or the unfamiliar sounds.

He had heard morning birdsong occasionally in London, but never like this. There were so many more birds here in the countryside, and no traffic noise to drown their singing. Back at home there was always traffic. The family home at Adley Green was quite close to the docks. Ships' horns were heard at all times of night on the busy Thames waterway and cargoes were unloaded and sent on their way in big noisy lorries.

Here in Tamwell there were other sounds new to Alan, such as mooing cows and squealing pigs, but the sound of a cockerel crowing was more familiar.

He knelt on the end of the bed and looked out of the window. From behind the closed door of the hen-house came the impatient clucking of birds anxious to get out and forage for food but the geese were already busy patrolling the orchard.

Alan had slept well after the excitement of arriving at his new temporary home yesterday, and was looking forward to asking 'Old Matey' a lot of questions about the farm, the sword, the gun, the secret room and so many other things . He was never allowed to ask questions at home, but the old man seemed very friendly, so maybe . . .

Jumping out of bed, eager to meet the new day and continue his exploration of the farm, his foot contacted something hard and he felt wetness underfoot as the object slid across the bare wooden floor. Only now did he remember that he had used the pot during the night and must have forgotten to push it back under the bed. He would be in real trouble now.

His mother, Betty, who shared the adjoining bedroom with Grandma, came rushing in to investigate.

"Stupid child!" she snapped, "All you ever do is make trouble."

Alan didn't think that was all he ever did, but he didn't need to be told a thousand times (another of her favourite expressions) that this was something really serious.

"If Uncle Gerald finds out about this . . ." she began, but was interrupted when the old man himself appeared in the doorway.

"Finds out about what?" he roared and then, seeing the problem, turned to Alan and said, "Done it meself many times, Young Matey. Here, let me give you a hand to clear it up."

Betty flounced out of the room, leaving Alan in tears, with Old Matey's hand resting gently on his shoulder. She did not hear what the old man whispered in Alan's ear as she left.

"Just this time, remember. We are all allowed one mistake. No need to tell Aunt Molly what you did."

This was something Alan had never experienced before. One mistake, as far as his mother was concerned, would always be one mistake too many. Molly was downstairs, preparing breakfast and with luck, she might not have heard the commotion, but that hope was dashed when she came puffing up the stairs, carrying a mop, some old newspapers and a can of disinfectant. Betty had told her about Alan's carelessness and was still telling her how many times she had warned the stupid boy to be careful.

"Move yourself," she told Alan; "You too," she added, turning to the old man.

"I couldn't help it," Alan replied, tearfully, "I'm very sorry."

"Not as sorry as you will be when I tell your father," Betty told him, suddenly appearing from behind, "now get dressed and don't forget to wash your hands and . . . never mind, I suppose I'd better do it for you!"

She plunged a cloth into the water jug and used it to scrub Alan's face and neck vigorously, making him wince.

"Now go and change the water, like Aunt Molly told you to."

The jug was heavy and he needed to use both hands to lift it. He felt sure that he was going to drop it on the way downstairs and would get into even more trouble, but Old Matey came to the rescue again.

"Here, lad, let me show you how we do it," he said, emptying the dirty water from the jug into the bucket. "That's what you carry downstairs, then you rinse it out under the tap in the yard and fetch some fresh water to refill the jug. Didn't she tell you that?

How simple he makes everything sound, Alan thought.

The old man had not finished yet. Turning to Betty, he said "And didn't anybody tell you, young lady, that you pour a drop of the water into the bowl before you wash in it? Now that you've dirtied the water in the jug tat will have to be washed and re-filled too. All that clean water wasted!"

Betty was not used to being spoken to in such a manner, and did not reply.

"Get yourself dressed and go downstairs,' she told Alan, "Aunt Molly's got some work for you to do before you get any breakfast."

So many things to do and so much to remember, Alan mused. Country life was not going to be easy.

From downstairs came the wonderful smell of bacon. He hoped that there would be an egg for him as well, but was disappointed to find that he was only offered porridge. 'Much better for young children,' Aunt Molly explained.

When he had finished his breakfast, washed down with a cup of fresh milk, still warm from the cow, Aunt Mary handed him a wicker basket.

'Come with me,' she ordered, as she led him to the hen-house and released the bolt on the door.

The birds quickly rushed to get out, and Alan tripped over, trying to get out of their way.

'Better not do that when you've got eggs in the basket,' Aunt Molly warned. Then took him inside the hut. There were eggs amongst the straw on the floor and it was to be Alan's job every morning to collect them after letting the hens out.

That seemed easy enough but the next thing he had to do sounded a bit more difficult: he would also have to lock them in at night so that the foxes couldn't get at them. He wondered how he was ever going to catch all those birds and out them away safely, but Aunt Molly only assured him, 'You'll do it all right, just mark my words.'

That was not the end of his chores, either. He also had to feed them and Molly was ready to show him how.

Leading him to another hut - a disused pig-sty, she said it was - she showed him a large metal drum with a lid. Removing the lid she produced a metal scoop and brought out some grain. 'Two of these every morning, first thing,' she told him, 'And don't forget to put the lid back tightly. We can't afford the feed the rats.'

Rats! Alan shuddered. He had seen rats in people's houses near the London Docks. Thousands of them lived a very well-fed life there because of the grain that spilled from damaged sacks, not only on the quayside but falling in a trail behind the lorries that carried it away to its various destinations, and they used the underground sewers to move to all parts of London. Somehow he hadn't really considered the possibility of finding rats in the countryside. That was another thing he had now learnt.

He now had about 2o eggs in his basket, and suddenly noticed a few that he had missed before. Not in the hen-house but outside, in a patch of weeds. A hen was sitting on them but he caught a glimpse of them as she shuffled around to get more comfortable. Shooing the bird away he triumphantly collected the eggs and added them to those in the basket, but Aunt Molly was not at all pleased.

'Not those, you stupid child,' she snapped. 'They'll be no good to eat now. They were nearly ready to hatch but she won't sit on them again now that you've touched them'.

Alan realized yet again that he had much to learn, and wondered if he would ever get it right.

Arthur Loosley

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