The Wooden Heart – Episode 17

After only a few weeks in Denholm, Stephen found the present blending seamlessly into the past. Not least when he walked to the stream above the village to discover that the stretch where he had guddled trout as a boy almost 35 years ago was virtually unchanged.

Smiling, he leaned on the wooden gate, letting the summer sun warm his shoulders and the back of his neck.

A movement caught his eye. It was a farmer with his sheepdog, walking down through the field and following the stream.

He watched them lazily, then saw the farmer’s head rise and a hand come up to screen the sun from his eyes.

The man paused for an instant, then came striding up to meet him at the gate, his sheepdog following, its nose barely an inch behind the farmer’s heels.

“Fine day,” the farmer said, reaching the other side of the gate.

“It is,” Stephen said. “I’ve come up for a breath of fresh air to clear my head from paint fumes. What started as a patch-up job has turned into a full-scale face lift. My daughter’s in Hawick, buying new curtains and having a look at carpet prices.”

“Aye,” the farmer replied. “But when women look, they generally go back and buy. Are you the new guy come to the village? Down in the old joiner’s cottage?”

“More an old boy, coming back,” Stephen said. “I grew up here. I was the joiner’s son. And, provided that it’s now too late for you to sue me, I guddled trout down there when I was a lad. Right round that bend in the river.”

A broad smile broke out on the farmer’s face.

“So did I,” he said. “Got some good ’uns there. I’m Fred Wotherspoon.”

He held out a work-roughened hand and Stephen shook it.

“Stephen Melville.”

The farmer leaned his shoulders against the gate and together they admired the tinkling stream. The sheepdog gave Stephen a baleful glance and lay down at the farmer’s feet.

“The village lads tell me you’re into classic cars and engines,” Wotherspoon finally said. “You keep a classic car in old Melville’s shed?”

“That’s right,” Stephen replied. “A 1934 Austin 7. I found it in a barn and now I’m rebuilding it.”

“Is that your business, working on old stuff to sell?”

“No, it’s a hobby,” Stephen said. “I’m rebuilding it to keep.”

The sun beat down on both of them.

“Know anything about old diesel engines?” Wotherspoon finally asked. “Big ’uns, not the tiddly little diesels that you get in modern cars.”

“I’ve spent my life with big diesel engines,” Stephen told the farmer. “Everything from a motor launch or tug, to a supply ship, or even the rigs themselves. All sizes of diesels, some nearly as big as the cottage.”

Wotherspoon sniffed.

“I’ve an old beauty,” he said. “A Fordson. My dad’s first diesel tractor. I learned to drive in it.”

Stephen’s eyes narrowed.

“Fordson diesel? Which year?” he asked.

“It’s from 1950.”

“Wow!” Stephen exclaimed. “Then it’s the Fordson Diesel Maxi, the diesel tractor which spelled the end for petrol tractors on farms throughout the country.”

“It can out-pull any petrol tractor,” Wotherspoon claimed.

He glanced round at Stephen.

“It hasn’t been running properly in years,” he said. “Fancy having a look at it?”

A broad grin broke out on his face.

“By way of repaying all these trout you stole?”

“Guilty as charged.” Stephen laughed. “Where is this old Fordson of yours?”

“Up at the farm.”

“Lead me to it.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.