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Feather's Miscellany: Henry Wade’s Deafness

So what are folk saying in your presence when you are extremely deaf and the winner of seven million pounds on the Lottery?

John Waddington-Feather tells a delicious tale.

For more of John’s stories and articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/feathers_miscellany/

High up the Ruddledene hillside north of Keighworth was Henry Wade’s farm, which had been in his family for generations. He and his wife, Bessie, ran it with the help of a labourer towards the end. They’d no children but many relatives and the older Henry and Bessie became, the more attention was paid to them by their relatives. To his face they were all smiles but behind his back what they said was nobody’s business.

Henry was as tight-fisted as they come. Hill farmers have to be for theirs is a hard lot. There are few frills in their lives. Henry had never been on holiday; never given presents of any kind, not even to his wife. Like the rest of his type he was hard as the millstone boulders on the moors above his farm. It was as if the farmers up there had sprung from the very soil they tilled.

Most of their farmland was intake; that is, land wrested from the bracken, ling and peat, held at bay temporarily by the dry stone walls surrounding their fields. There were no hedgerows up there; the soil was so thin and sour. Henry eked out a living from pasturing sheep and rearing the odd beef cow. Milking had stopped being profitable and he’d sold his quota long ago. But he did make a packet from the shooting rights over his patch of moorland, which was rich in grouse.

Each year a well-to-do shooting syndicate from London paid him well for the grouse-shooting rights. The City gents would leave their offices and clubs to come North in their Land Rovers and green wellies ready for the kill. They stayed at expensive hotels in Ilkesworth, the spa town just over the hill from Henry’s farm, but during their lunch breaks adjourned to Bessie’s kitchen for a slap-up meal. Henry always said he married Bessie for her cooking, but she never said why she’d married him. He wasn’t much to look at, had no charm and looked more sour the older he grew.

She might well have married him for money. There was the farm in the offing when they wed, but that was some way off. Old Wade lived till he was into his eighties. Meanwhile, they had to make do with next to nowt. Like all hill-farmers’ sons, Henry worked for a pittance, till he inherited the farm. Even when he was worth a bomb he lived like a hermit, and poor Bessie had to save and scrape to the end. She grumbled like mad, of course, but in vain. Finally she shut up and nursed her wrath silently.

They never visited relatives, but as the years went by the relatives visited them. Then Henry and Bessie would go out for a meal, for the relatives always insisted on paying. They came in hordes when Henry hit the jackpot in the National Lottery. He wasn’t what you’d call a real gambler, but he did treat himself to a Lottery ticket each week at the stock-market and one week he came up trumps. He won a Lottery roll-over worth seven millions pounds! It was the first time in years he smiled. He didn’t celebrate, though; he gave Bessie the money for a bottle of wine which they drank quietly at home over the next few weeks. But after his win he never had to buy a drink in Keighworth again. Everyone was his friend. New wealth makes many new friends.

And in Keighworth if you were rich you were somebody. Complete strangers began saying hello to Henry in the street. Men and women were gauged in Keighworth not by their intellect or by their good works or by their wit, but by the size of their wallet. That most of all gave you status and Henry’s standing in the town went right to the top. He was offered a drink every time he set foot in a pub. The whole town wanted to know him. And Henry accepted every drink. That he never bought one back didn’t matter. He was a man of wealth, and canny with it.

Yes, Henry was canny all right and being a wealthy man now and elderly, he wanted to make sure that as little of his money as possible went to the tax-man, whom he detested. He didn’t want to part with a penny and would have taken his money with him, but he knew that when he was called to account beyond the grave, his money would go to others: the tax man, if he didn’t do something about it. He’d rather it stayed in the family, so he drew up a list of relatives and friends and went discreetly into town to make his will.

By this time, he was growing increasingly deaf, but put off buying a hearing aid as long as possible. It drove his wife scatty. She had to repeat herself at the top of her voice, and the outcome was he eventually went to Leeds to see a hearing specialist secretly. The consultant was right at the top of his profession and implanted minute digital aids in his ears which nobody could see. It gave him back his hearing one hundred per cent - and more. He could hear a pin drop the other side of the room.

Of course, no one realised he could hear again and Henry played them along; in company saying nothing; just smiling now and again or suddenly looking sharply across the room and frowning at someone speaking there.

After six months he returned to the consultant in Leeds for a check-up. “Your hearing is perfect, Mr Wade,” he said. “Your relatives and friends must be delighted.”

“I haven’t told anyone yet, doctor. Not even my wife,” Henry said thoughtfully.

“Oh, why?” asked the doctor, surprised.

“Well, it’s like this, doctor. Your new hearing-aid has worked wonders like you said,” said Henry, “but when we have company, I prefer to sit and just listen to those speaking around me – and I’ve changed my will five times already!”

John Waddington-Feather ©

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