Blackberry Lane – Episode 04


“DON’T you know what’s going on, Dad?”

Kenneth Proctor’s tone was incredulous. “Don’t you read the papers? This country is at war!”

“No, now you come to mention it,” Ted replied with irony, “I don’t get a lot of time for reading papers − not with this farm to run.” His eyes scanned the horizon. Doesn’t mean I’m ignorant, though – I know that farm workers are exempt from call-up.”

“But I’m not waiting to be called up,” Ken declared passionately. “I’m volunteering to join up. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go and do my bit.”

“Pah! That’s just an excuse, and you know it.” Ted’s tone was scathing. “If you think you’re such a fine man, you might at least have the guts to be honest with me.”

Ken made no reply, but his face, pinched and white with fury, betrayed his feelings. Ted looked at his son, and as he’d done so often over the past 20 years, wondered how he and his wife could have produced this young man. Their natures seemed poles apart; there was nothing of the farmer’s boy in the lad. There were his bright blue eyes, of course, but as for the rest of him…

Thinking of his wife gave him the spark of an idea, and he clutched at it eagerly.

“It would break your mother’s heart if anything happened to you.”

For the first time the young man faltered.

“I know, but I’ll talk to Mum. She’ll understand. She wants me to be happy.”

“Don’t you think that’s what I want, too?”

“No, what you want, Dad, is for me to bury myself on this farm for the rest of my days.”

“Oh, Ken.” Ted’s voice sounded worn out with arguing. “Of course I want you to stay on the farm.” He swept his arm through the air expansively. “All this will be yours one day.”

“I know, Dad, but I can’t.” The fight had gone out of Ken’s voice, too, and in its place was a plea for understanding. “I can’t do it. It’s not in me, and you know it. I’m not like Archie. He’s the one you should be thinking of.”

Ted looked exasperated.

“Archie’s a fine man, but he’s not family. This is Proctor land, and has been for generations.”

Ken’s head dropped.

“I know, Dad, and I’m sorry. Don’t you think I’d do it if I could”

Both men now stood silent and dejected, cutting lonely figures in the dank winter landscape.

Ted could see his son meant what he said.

“Just promise me one thing,” he said. “Promise me you’ll take care − not take any unnecessary risks. You’re all we’ve got.”

Ken swallowed hard. He really wanted to share a hug, but it had never been the way with his dad. Mum was the one for all that.

He couldn’t trust himself to speak, but met his dad’s gaze and nodded.

The two men turned their backs on the fields, and walked towards the farmhouse.

****

The bar of the Stag Hotel was packed out with uniformed bodies. Every member of staff, from the head chef right down to the lowliest chambermaid, had gathered to give the group of soldiers a rousing send-off.

The portly figure of Hubert Trent-Brown swelled with almost paternal pride.

“Carswell,” he gestured with his arm imperiously, “get those glasses out.”

The barman moved swiftly to comply, pouring measures of rich amber whisky into tumblers for the men present, and sherry into dainty-stemmed glasses for the ladies.

“A toast,” Mr Trent-Brown raised his glass high into the air, “to our gallant boys. Let’s wish them a speedy victory.”

A chorus of “To our gallant boys” swelled through the room, and misty-eyed women fumbled for handkerchiefs.

Raymond mouthed the words, a smile fixed on his face. He gulped his drink and savoured the sensation of the fiery liquid hitting the back of his throat.

To follow their shining example – that was what would be expected of him − filled him with terror.

The idea of going overseas to fight turned his insides to water. That was his secret, though, and he took care to keep it so. If any of his mates guessed at the fear which lurked within him he’d never be able to look them in the eye again.

 

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!