The clink of metal on stone. But it wasn't coming from the delf. Frankie Hanson should know, after all, he worked there and today was Sunday. There it was again, faint but distinct above the buffet of the raw January wind. It was coming from over the wall, over on the edge. Hanson turned up the collar of his melton jacket pulled the cap down over his ears and squeezed through the stile.
The updraught scouring Balkram Edge hit him instantly. He looked along the rocky rampart, high above the valley, and quickly perceived the source of the sound, a squatting dark form huddled on the very tip of the 'Witches Nose', an overhanging, airy platform of scoured rock crowning the jumbled boulders and unfinished millstones. He drew nearer and yelled above the wind.
"Hoi Jonny! What's tha laikin' at nah thi daft bugger? Tha'll noan delve flags offen yon face!"
The small, bent figure, couched in silhouette in the weak winter sunshine, broke off from its labours and got to its feet.
"Frankie 'Anson By gow! What draws thee away from t''Well 'eads'? They doan't serve Ramsdens up here tha knoas!!"
"Ner Websters neither! What brings thee up here on such a day as this?"
Jonny Broadbent secreted the hammer and chisel in his ample greatcoat pockets, and scuttled over the rock to sheltered ground. A small, dark, dapper little man, with a shock of slicked back black hair, he stood in marked contrast to Hanson, who was burly and red headed. The two friends huddled among the boulders, out of the wind.
"Just carvin' my name on yon boulder Frankie boy. Sort of mekkin' my mark on the world as it were."
"But why now ? Tha's picked a grand day for a Sunday picnic!"
"Beggars can't be choosers Frankie. Tha knoas wheer am goin sooin'. I just want to remember this place when I goa that's all."
Of remembrance worthy it was. Bleak hills flecked with snow, distant straggling lines of tumbled drystone walls, black, hoary nerve fibres connecting tiny barns and farmsteads buttressed against the raw pitiless sky. And below, distantly so, black mills and terraces, tramlines shimmering icily in the weak sunshine, stands of dank belching chimneys, the clank of machinery, the shunting of distant locomotives, the smell of railway soot borne on the breeze. This was more than Jonny Broadbent's home, it was the home of his father and his father before him. On that cold January day, high on that windy outcrop, Jonny surveyed a landscape forged (he knew) by the 'blood, toil, tears and sweat' of his forebears. What would Mr. Churchill make of that he wondered?
"Coom on then Jonny. It'll be dark in an hour or so. You'd best get some ale dahn yer toneet, odds on tha'll not get much chance when tha gets ter trainin' camp!"
Jonny Broadbent laughed. "I hope tha's payin' 'Anson. Those of us wi' aht flat feet have to go fight t' bloody Jerries. Its alreet for some jammy beggars - exempt from military service an ' all that!"
"Doan't rub it in! I'm sure they'll find us summat ta do. We got to show them struttin' Huns that t'real master race cooms from Yorkshire! We can't all be lucky enough to fight."
"Lucky? Is that what tha calls it, bloody lucky? I'll tell thi whats lucky - Ramsdens best bitter, a half a milk stout as a bribe, then gettin' into Betty Crabtrees' knickers up t' Black Edge Lane! You don't think I wanted to ruddy goa does tha? They exempted me brother George cause he's only five foot two. Well I'm only an inch or so taller, so I thowt I'd be alreet like him. No such bloody luck. It were a different bloody doctor. 'Broadbent Jonny. A1. You'll do. Your orders will arrive shortly. That were that. Now I've got to go to their bloody war like me old man did."
Hanson frowned. "Sorry Jonny lad. I never thowt. I forgot tha lost thi dad in t' first lot. Its noan a joke. Its just that it all seems so unreal. Its 'ard to imagine that some fowks might not come back."
Jonny Broadbent stopped and looked his friend squarely in the eye.
"Well doan't start 'imagining' about me. I've no plans to repeat history. I'll tell thi what I'm doin'- I'm goin' 'over theer' and then I'm coming back. COMIN' BACK. Mek no mistake. An' when I do, we'll stand on yon witches nose an' laugh abaht it all."
"But what abaht me Jonny? Everything's bloody changin', what if I'm not theer ta meet thi?"
"Doant worry, tha'll be theer, thi daft beggar, exempt like thi coil minin' dad afore thi! Doant worry abaht thee. Just be theer fer when I coom back"
It was now pitch dark, the hills outlined only by the winter stars and the wastes of snow. Distantly, a paraffin lamp in the mullioned windows of the Well Heads beckoned, a floating light in the freezing, wind buffetted darkness. The two friends walked between the silhouetted walls of Dick's Gate, laughing, talking, crunching and cracking the ice on the frozen puddles,
West Yorkshires answer to the master race were assembled in the Tap room at the Well Heads Inn, an oasis of warmth and dim light in a landscape of wind and darkness. A peat fire sputtered in the blackened stone grate, a small white terrier lay sprawled out on the stone flagged floor, rapt and red eyed in the warm glow. Above, on the mantelpiece, the dogs alter ego, skillfully fashioned from empty Players packets. Laughing and murmering beneath a cloud of tobacco smoke, grizzled men in flat caps drank strong ale and played dominoes on rough hewn butcher block tables. The low, beamed room was lined with oak settles and cast iron chairs.
It was a world of men the tap room. Next door, in the lounge, young lasses with chintzy dresses and bunned hair might court and laugh. But the tap room exhibited only the faces of men - old and lined, young and eager. Farmers and shepherds in old jackets tied with string, young lads from the town with pin stripes, trilby hats and pullovers, and now, a new departure, the green/brown drab of regulation khaki. Even here, on what might be the very edge of the known universe, the fateful events taking place in Europe were already making their mark.
"So when yer goin' Jonny Lad?"
Broadbent's adam's apple bobbed as he cleared off the pint.
"Next Friday Frankie boy. Got to report to some camp near Cirencester."
"Cirencester? Wheer the 'ell's that?"
"Wiltshire I think."
"Down south? Flat beer dahn there mate."
Broadbent frowned. "I expect they won't keep us theer long. Training camp ah reckon."
"What mob you in?"
"Thee? A sapper?"
"I knaw. Bloody daft in't it! Can you imagine all those big strappin' lads wi me stuck on the end? Five foot three in bloody high heels! Stupid pratt of a doctor!"
"I can imagine the Jonny Broadbent battlecry - 'Can you 'ear me mother!'"
"Oh dead droll. Been in t' knife box have we 'anson?"
Hanson raised his glass. "Noan so sharp as tha'll hev ta be ah reckon. Here's to thee Jonny. Look after thisen an come back in one piece. I'll have a pint paid on for thi when tha cooms home on leave. Good luck lad."
Jonny Broadbent smiled and nodded. Then fell silent. He gazed pensively into the bottom of his glass. All around him was noise and hubbub, but now he felt alone in a bubble of silence, somehow detached from the song of real life. Beyond, the world babbled, smoky, distant and muffled, but Jonny sensed only the wiry, rooty stillness of high moorlands on a summers day, when silence smothers the landscape and the reservoirs are like glass. A great engulfing silence, strident as death, a song of beginnings and endings. The world was turning, and his small life with it. 'Cirencester'. Then where? The B.E.F. was embarking for France. He'd never been anywhere more exotic than Blackpool. He was scared. He would hang on to that silence, slip it into a woodbine packet and carry it with him in his vest pocket. Lie down, blow a smoke ring and think of England, home, beauty - and Betty Crabtrees knickers. The bubble burst. The noise crashed in on him. A song. Another time, another war.....
"Pack up your troubles in your old kitbag and smile! smile! smile........!"
"For God's sake Frank, when are you going to pull over? I'm fed up of this lot fratching and fighting. Will you stop somewhere and let us stretch us legs?"
"Alright love. Next layby we'll stop. There must be one somewhere between here and Arras. Just keep your eyes open everybody,"
Frank Howarth sighed. His wife was right. It had been a long haul from Luxembourg. He had been driving for nearly nine hours now, with only a half hour break. His eyes felt like they were on stalks, onto which were etched an infinity of straight roads and manicured poplars interspersed with one dusty township after another. Everyone was getting tired and bad tempered. Artois. La France. A bit different to Mytholm Steeps he thought! Here the landscape was endlessly flat and occasionally undulating at best. It reminded him somehow of the Vale of York. Were he driving on the left rather than the right he might be en route for Tadcaster!
Frank Howarth was a big man in his mid forties. Medium height, thick set, overweight for his size, age was creeping up on him, but Howarth was not a man to give in gracefully. In the past he had been a keen walker, and had frequently set off on mountain walkabouts for weeks on end. Despite the arm pains and shortness of breath, he still imagined he had the same prowess. His daughters had no such illusions.
"What now Suzy?"
"Look in your mirror dad. I think one of the bikes might be coming loose."
Howarth peered through the rear window. Yes, the bike did seem to have moved on its mounting. He slowed the car.
"We'll have to find somewhere to pull off the road. You cant just stop at the roadside. It's an offence in France."
The grass and poppies of the roadside gave way to gravel just beyond the next bend and Howarth pulled the big Granada off the highway. Odd really. This was the first serious bend he'd encountered in twenty miles. He cut the engine. All was peaceful and still. Sun dried fields and birds twittering in the hedgerows.
"I'll just take a leak and then attend to the bikes. Then we'll finish off those sandwiches if that's alright by you love, I'm starving." Howarth turned his back to the road and unzipped his fly.
"You're in full view of the road Frank!"
Howarth grinned. "I don't care. If the frogs can do it at the roadside, I can! It doesn't embarrass them."
"Maybe not. But it embarrasses me. And what about me and the girls. We can't squat down by the roadside."
"Go down that lane over there Annie. The sign says there's a footpath. Sentier des Morts". Hang on a minute and I'll come and keep an eye out for you."
Just past the lane end, a kissing gate led into a plantation of pinewoods. The girls Suzy and Sandy, had gone on ahead as usual and returned full of excitement.
"Can we go to the park dad?"
"Yes, dad. We can see it on the other side of the forest. It's enormous. Come and take a look."
Frank Howarth smiled. "Well we could do with a walk to stretch our legs. O.K. When your mam's ready I'll lock up the car."
It was strangely quiet in the little wood. The hedgerow birds seemed singularly absent here, and the dense tree canopy, that so characterises coniferous woodlands, tended towards extreme shade, a near darkness, lit only by the odd shaft of light penetrating to the acid, needle covered soil. Considering the flat landscape hereabouts, Howarth couldn't help but notice how the ground seemed hummocky and uneven, as if disturbed long ago by some great upheaval. At the next clearing the path descended into a grassy dell, winding erratically from side to side, a narrow channel winding through a sea of grassy humps and hollows. At the right hand side of the path a hole suddenly opened up in the ground. Above it, framed in rusty barbed wire and rotting corrugated iron, a sunbleached board carried the following legend in faded black gothic characters:
Realisation dawned. "Good God Annie. Do you know what this is?"
"Looks like a hole in the ground to me love."
"That's exactly what it is. It's the entrance to a dugout lass. We're in the middle of a ruddy battlefield. All these hummocks and hollows. They're shell holes. Judging by this sign we're in what was once the German trenches." He shuddered involuntarily. "Good God. Just think what it must have been like here in 1915."
Suzy grabbed his arm and pulled. "Come on dad. You can see the park. It's over there. Our Sandy's already reached it!" She pointed to a gap in the trees.
Yes it was there, shining brilliantly white on the hillside beyond the far edge of the plantation. But it wasn't a park. There were iron gates, shrub beds, avenues and seats, but these framed not play areas but row upon endless row of small upright white slabs, culminating in a high stepped plinth surmounted by a tall white cross. A vast military cemetery. They passed through the gate onto the smooth, well tended turf.
"My God! Just look at all these graves! There must be thousands of them here."
"They're all ours love - us and the A.N.Z.A.C s and Canadians. Look, you can pick out the Canadians readily enough by the maple leaves on the gravestones. And look there.... Havildar Kishan Singh, Sikh Regiment. They came from all over the Empire. What must the Germans have made of them eh?"
He turned to his wife. She was crying.
"You Ok love!"
"Its alright Frank. Just a bit upsetting that's all. I mean just look at them. They were all so young. Just bits of kids really. Look at these Frank. West Yorkshire Regiment...... Duke of Wellington's Regiment..... My grandad could be here for all I know. He was with the 'Dukes' in the Great War. He never came home. Some of these young lads came from Bradford and Leeds."
"I bet they never thought they'd end up here. So far away. You're right love. It's very sad."
Suzy came up from behind one of the rows of gravestones. "What's the matter with mam?"
"Oh it's alright sweetheart. Mummy's just a bit sad that's all."
How could you explain this to a child?
"Long ago, Suzy. In your great grandfather's time, there was a terrible battle here in which a lot of young men died. They were buried here, and the place kept nice so that people who loved them could come and remember them. That's why it looks like a park sweetheart."
"But how did they die?"
"It was a war sweetheart. Some were shot. Many of them blown to pieces."
"But that's horrible dad!"
"Yes it was. That's why we need to remember them. To make sure it doesn't happen again."
"But why did it happen dad?"
"Because some people are ruled by greed and vanity. They believe that war offers a solution to the worlds problems. Trouble is, it never does. It only makes graveyards full of young people, like this one."
"So why do people have wars?"
"Because they forget what happened before, and make the same mistakes again and again."
"But surely dad, a place like this would serve to remind them?"
"Yes it would sweetheart - if they took the trouble to come here."
Annie Howarth raised her arm and pointed to her watch.
"It's getting late Frank. If we don't get back on the road soon we're going to be late arriving at the campsite. Don't forget we have to catch the 10 o' clock ferry tomorrow morning and you're going to be shattered."
"O.K. love. We'll get back to the car. Where's Sandy?"
Frank Howarth looked along the serried ranks of white gravestones. It reminded him of the standing stones he had seen at Carnac the previous year - legions of soldiers turned to stone. There was no sign of his youngest daughter.
"Sandy! Sandy! Where are you?! Its no use love. She's too little to see above the gravestones. We'll have to fan out and look. I'll head towards the top row. You and Suzy go the other way. She can't be that far away. There's nobody here but us."
Howarth proceeded up the central pathway of the cemetery, scanning the avenues of stones curving symmetrically away on either side. He passed the top row and stood on the plinth beneath the memorial cross at the very summit of the hillside. He looked from side to side, scanning the cemetery with his gaze. Then, at the top left hand corner, at the very end of the top row, he perceived the yellow of his daughter's summer dress. In an agony of anxious apprehension He jumped off the plinth, and sprinted along the top path of the cemetery towards his daughter's huddled form.
By the time he reached the little girl his heart was pounding in his breast and his head beginning to hurt. He'd encountered the feeling before. It was to do with being middle aged and overweight. Little Sandy was alright, but she was crying bitterly. He picked her up and hugged her tightly.
"What's the matter my baby? Why are you crying."
"I was lost daddy, and I couldn't see you anywhere. The soldier said he'd take me back, but he didn't. We just walked and walked and then he left me on my own. He told me to wait and then he...."
"Soldier? What soldier?"
"The little soldier daddy. Didn't you see him?"
"No. You say he was little?"
"He wasn't tall like you daddy. He didn't seem much bigger than our Suzy."
Howarth frowned. "How many times do I have to tell you that you're not supposed to talk to strange people?" Then an afterthought hit him. "What did he tell you to do?"
"He told me to wait daddy. Then - he gave me this."
Howarth took the proferred object, and cursed as a sharp thorn jabbed into his finger. It was a rose. White with red flecks at its heart. As he held it he felt light headed. He could feel the blood pounding in his temples, the hot sun beating down on his skull, the swirl of graves, trees and sky as he crashed down into darkness.
"Frank! Frank! Oh thank God! Are you alright love?"
Howarth gazed groggily into the anxious face of his wife.
"I'm alright love. Just had a funny turn that's all. Fainted I think."
"That's what you get with doing too much. I saw you running along that path. You ought to have more sense at your age."
"Sorry love. God I feel cold. I'm chilled love. Why do I feel chilled on such hot day?"
"You're sweating too Frank. Just sit there and take it easy awhile."
Frank Howarth gazed at the rose that had dropped from his hand. Then, across the ways he perceived what he took to be its source, a snapped off stem adjacent to the last gravestone in the row. He glanced at the inscription etched on the white stone.
"That's strange Annie."
"Strange? Why? It just says "A Soldier of the War - Known unto God".
"Yes love - but look at the date!"
"Well don't you see? This is a Great War Cemetery. Everyone here died in the '14-'18 War. This is Artois.There aren't any Second World War cemeteries around here."
"Then whose grave is it?"
"Who knows? It must have been a one off burial.A straggler maybe, cut off from his unit."
"How far do you reckon it is to the ferry terminal love?"
"The ferry? I don't know. A hundred kilometres maybe. Hundred and fifty if you're heading for the tunnel."
"But we're not heading for the tunnel or Calais. We're booked for Dunkerque. Ten am tomorrow."
"Well maybe that's where he was heading. 1940. The Germans were sweeping across Belgium. I reckon he must have been left behind by the Dunkirk evacuation. A straggler from the B.E.F.. It's the only thing that fits."
"Poor lad. I wonder where he came from?"
"Who knows?" Frank Howarth got slowly to his feet. "I'm O.K. now love. Let's get back to the car."
His wife frowned. "You take it steady Frank Howarth. I would like to get home in one piece. You've been driving all day, and you know how the French Drive."
Howarth grinned. "They're not all that bad love. The Belgians are worse!"
"I don't ruddy care Frank. I can't drive. It's all on you love. Let's get on site and settle down for the night. Suzy! Sandy! Come on girls, we're heading back to the car!"
Soon they were thundering down the straight and dusty road once more. Now there were war cemeteries in abundance. Tiny clusters of white crosses in the midst of vast arable fields, black crosses in tree girt enclosures, sometimes on both sides of the road. Sometimes small and intimate, sometimes vast. Everywhere in this part of Artois were constant reminders of war and its terrible price. Endless graveyards and clusters of red poppies swaying in the breeze on the waste ground at the side of the road.
The Campsite was just outside St. Omer. A large house and park, the Chateau D'Epernais was screened by mature woods on one side, and bounded by a canal on the other. Adjacent to the gate was a large concrete bunker with an iron door. The house, it transpired, had been the living quarters of a German unit during the war. They had been involved in the launching of buzz bombs and V2s against London, and the whole district had been badly beaten up by the R.A.F. in consequence. That no doubt, explained the numerous cracks evident in the grey rendering of the chateaus ivy decked walls.
It was well into the evening, when tired and dust stained, the Wadsworths rolled up at the Chateau gates. The girls had been anticipating a swim, but by now the pool would be shut. Mercifully, the Camping Holiday Company courier was still around, and the Wadsworths were soon settled without ceremony in the pre- erected frame tent they had booked for the stopover. By nine o' clock, everyone was sitting outside their tents, guzzling cheese and wine, and enjoying the last fading glimmers of what had been a long, hot June day.
Frank Howarth drank off the last of the Muscadet in his glass. Replete with food and slightly fuddled from the wine, he was fading fast, the long day on the road having taken its toll.
"Bon nuit ma femme. Maintenant je dois dormir parce que je suis tres fatiguŃ."
"Oh can the frog stuff will you Frank! Just 'cause you spent three months listening to bloody tapes you think you're ruddy Maurice Chevalier!"
"Zank 'eavens - for little girls!"
"Is dad drunk?"
"No love. He just likes to make out he is. Come on Frank. I think its about time we went in. Long trip home tomorrow".
"That's what I was saying love. I think I'll sleep as soon as I hit the pillow tonight."
But he didn't. Rather, as he lay there in the dark, stifling tent, he found himself still driving down those long straight french highways, still seeing those endless lines of poplars flashing by, a zoetrope image flickering and flitting on the inside of his tired eyelids. He thought of the long journey he would make on the morrow, the brief respite at home before going back to work on the Monday. He tried counting sheep, but it was no use, when he got past ten they would turn into poplars! He sweated, coughed and dozed fitfully, as slowly, imperceptibly at first, the first whisperings of sleep overtook him.
The rows of poplars seemed less shadowy now. They looked rich, luxuriant, green with an almost sickly verdance as they whizzed by, a computer game perspective narrowing to a long low horizon. He gazed at the fields on either side, bleached and sunbaked, reflecting back a whiteness of sunlight unnatural and unreal, a swirling, vibrant Van Gogh landscape too bright for its canvas. The car bumped and bounced on the potholes in the road. But no, it wasn't a car any more. It was a large lumbering army truck, and he wasn't driving it. The driver was sitting beside him, a big blonde haired man with a pencil moustache in a khaki battledress, who grinned at him, as the eyes fixed him with a blurred, half turn. Then he glimpsed the shadows on the roadside. Faint at first, and then coming into sharp focus, slowly moving columns of ragged human flotsam, a pathetic throng of struggling humanity shapeless in the summer glare stretching away into the distance on either side of the highway. Ragged children clutching raggy dolls, old men pushing ricketty sit-up-and-beg bikes, handcarts piled up with meagre belongings, pale, grim faced women pushing prams. A grey, drab column of fleeing cowed humanity, half blocking the road.
The sun was now low on the horizon, a rosy sky, a sunset red as blood. Distantly, two skylarks silhouetted in this crimson tableau, soared and wheeled in the still summer air. Then for a moment it seemed they hung motionless, side by side, tiny, distant specks, suddenly coming nearer, black shapes metamorphosing with alarming, terrifying speed, into man made engines of destructive resolution. The pinprick stabs of flame, the popping puffs of smoke on the dusty road, the screams of people scrambling for the adjacent fields, and then a sudden, sickening thud followed by a yell and the whirling of trees as the lumbering vehicle lurched into the dyke and rolled over.
He was dozing now, lying lazily in the hot sun, the insects buzzing and the larks twittering in the hedgerows. He opened his eyes slowly, adjusting to the brightness, his head hurting. It was so still. So peaceful. He was lying in a field of wheat, the seed heads swaying gently in in an imperceptible breeze. A butterfly fluttered over his head. He struggled slowly to his feet, turned and saw the army truck. It lay on its side in the ditch, its door hung limply open above the swaying corn. He must have been thrown clear when it came off the road. He moved closer. The big blond haired driver was sitting on the embankment beside the road, his head in his hands. He yelled out but the man didn't reply. In a flash of awful realisation Howarth suddenly knew that the driver couldn't hear him. It was as if he were in a vacuum, like a ghost, a silent witness to events beyond his control. As he did so he heard the sound of an engine approaching. It was a small tracked vehicle, a bren carrier or so he imagined, the machine itself being almost invisible beneath the pile of weary, exhausted highlanders festooned all over it and hanging on for dear life! It pulled over to the side of the road and a burly sergeant jumped off.
"You alright son? You look like you've been in in a bit of a scrap!"The blond driver rose wearily to his feet and pointed to the truck.
"Ruddy Jerry fighter sarge, strafed us off the road."
"Who are you?"
"Lance Corporal Evans, Sergeant. Royal Engineers."
"sapper eh? Well, we should be able to take you. If you don't mind sitting on someone's knee that is!"
"Take me? I'd rather hoped you might be able to get my truck back on the road Sergeant. The windscreen's been shot through, but I reckon it should start up OK. And there's my mate Jonny. He's been shot up pretty bad. He's still in the truck."
The sergeant preered through the door of the upturned wagon.
"Sorry son. Your mate Johnnie's going nowhere in his condition. He's bought it. Best you can do is take his dog tags."
"But the truck..."
"Listen Mister Evans. Can you hear those engines back there? They're jerry tanks. and they're less than a mile away. If we stop to work on your truck none of us are going to get out of here alive. Got it?"
"Right son. You're now with the 51st Highland Division. The B.E.F and the French are holding a pocket around Dunkirk, from which they're mounting an evacuation. Trouble is our mates are telling us over the radio that our lot can't get through. Seems we're cut off. Best we can do is head south and hope for another way out. Get your mates' tags and then lets get the hell out of here."
Evans bent over into the cab of the truck, and emerged holding the I. D.tags. He ran to the Bren Carrier and scrambled onto the back. A roar of engine, a metallic rattle and it was gone, a grubby, khaki speck receding down the long dusty road.
Alone now, Frank Howarth peered into the upturned cab. Inside lay a small, dark man with lank, greasy hair, crabbed and bent like broken doll, the eyes staring glassily into space. On one side of the forehead the skull had been splintered away and the brain was exposed. Appalled, Howarth reeled from the truck. It was as if he was dead and the corpse was somehow his own, even though the slight form and shattered face was that of a total stranger. But then, as he turned to look back at the truck, he saw the man standing right beside him, a smile on the bloody, broken face. He gave a long, silent scream................
The voice at the end of the long, dark corridor came into audible focus.
"Frank..... Frank!.......Dear God Frank! What on earth's going on?
"just....... had a bad dream ... that's.....
"I thought you were having a fit. You're clammy and wet through with sweat. Are you sure you're OK love? I could ask the courier to call an ambulance."
"I'm ..... alright love. Must have done too much yesterday. Got a bit of a virus perhaps."
"What's up mummy? Why's dad shouting?"
"Its alright Suzy. Daddy had a bad dream that's all. Go back to sleep. Good lord Frank, what on earth were you dreaming about to cry out like that."
"The war love. I was in the war. It was so vivid. I remembered it as if it were yesterday."
"But you can't remember it. You weren't born until 1953."
"I know, that's the weird part. It all seemed so real. Almost as if I had lived through it."
"I reckon it was visiting that cemetery. You know what an over sensitive imagination you have."
Perhaps love. Look I'm going to make a cup of tea. I'll never get back to sleep until I calm myself down. Sorry for frightening you half to death love."
"Well cuddle our Suzy off to sleep while the kettle's boiling. We don't want her having nightmares as well."
Frank Howarth did not go back to sleep. When everyone was settled down once more and dozing peacefully, he lay half awake, sweating and ill-at-ease, a dull ache on the crown of his head and a throbbing in his temples. He suspected blood pressure. He wasn't as young as he was. Maybe he would see the quack about it when he got back to England. Maybe........
It was grey and choppy in mid channel. The sullen, flinty waves with their wind whipped frothy crowns looked tired and ill-used by the endless flow of shipping and effluence seeping in from either side of the narrow seaway, imperceptively and inexorably turning God's creation into man's. Frank Howarth and his family were sitting in deck chairs on the starboard side of the Ramsgate Ferry, wrapped up in blankets against the stiff chill wind that whipped up the waves and rattled the ageing ship's superstructure. The Wadsworth's situation had not been a matter of choice. Toting a shoulder bag, Frank Howarth had ranged the ferry from bow to stern, looking for somewhere for his family to sit. He had met with little success. Seats in lounges and saloons had been bagged my hordes of French schoolkids, who had simply staked their 'claim' with baggage leaving them free to roam elsewhere. In one lounge two youths lay sprawled across the seats. It made his blood boil! Outside people were sitting on the floors in the gangways!
In the end they had found some deckchairs and ship's blankets in a locker outside one of the restaurants, and, suitably wrapped up from the cold had decided to endure the voyage in the fresh air. Fortunately it was not a long crossing.
Frank Howarth could not help but marvel at the narrowness of the English Channel. It was not the first time he and his family had made the crossing to Europe. But previous ventures had involved different ferries and longer sea routes. Here in the narrow roadstead twixt England and France you could see both sides. In the distance, behind the ferries' churning wake he could make out the flame topped chimneys of the distant chemical works and oil terminals around Dunkerque, a blight in black silhouette. crowned by a leaden, menacing sky. And ahead - stretching right down towards Dover - those white cliffs, a symbol of home for so many. So near and yet so far away it must have seemed to those weary, exhausted men in 1940, lying drained and spent among the low French dunes, desperately seeking a way home. And then - the miracle. Those hundreds of tiny ships - fishing boats, pleasure steamers, sailboats - anything with sails, oars or an engine. The sinews of 'Operation Dynamo'. He saw the scene in his minds' eye, lines of hollow eyed men,ragged and dark, nursing their walking wounded into the shallows, waist deep in turgid oil stained water. Strong arms helping them into cockleshells of hope, old fishermen and young boys, scanning the skies anxiously for any sign of aircraft. Then they were gone, and Howarth thought of those who didn't return. The deserted beach, forlorn corpses lapped by the tide, the blazing hulks of scattered, abandoned vehicles. And then, deep in the countryside, beyond the ragged lines of French soldiers marching dejectedly home to an unknown future, beyond the fresh faced columns of proud strutting aryan supermen, a lonely country road, an overturned army truck - and a small, dark, broken face he could not get out of his mind.
"Frank?" His wifes' voice punctured the bubble.
"You looked miles away! What were you thinking about?"
"The war. I've been thinking about it ever since we visited that cemetery. Can't seem to get it out of my mind. Don't know why. I wasn't even a twinkle in my mum's eye then!"
His wife smiled. "You're still remembering that dream." She pointed towards the English Coast - " How much longer do you reckon love?"
Howarth looked at his watch. "About half an hour I reckon. Better reset the watches to British Summer Time."
His wife grinned. "Do you remember last year when you reset them in the wrong direction? We drove around the Dordogne for three days unable to understand why it was dropping dark so early in Summer! We were two hours out!"
I won't make that mistake again." He shivered and pulled the blanket closer. "Christ! Its getting bloody perishing out here. What say we nip into the cafeteria for a coffee and a sandwich. Reckon we should just have time to get warmed up before we put into Ramsgate."
"Sounds O.K. to me love. I'll round up the girls."
Frank Howarth looked back towards those distant chemical works, now fast receding into the murk of the oncoming squall. Momentarily, instinctively,he felt a surge of fierce joy, of triumphant satisfaction, then a sense of fear, of a struggle for control, as he realised, to his intense horror, that the feelings weren't his! Someone was thinking his thoughts for him, giving voice to an alien perception through his emotions. He could feel the promptings of a parasitic psyche, a violation of the persona that knew itself as Frank Howarth. Anger welled up as the outraged self regained control. "Go away!" He hissed.
Arrival in Ramsgate was an anticlimax. Clank off the ferry, through the terminal, past the harbour, around a sharp bend up the cliff road, and then out into the clogged, exhaust fumed chaos of England's congested island roads. And then, an uneventful, if tiring, journey - Dartford Tunnel - M25 - M1 - North... netherwards and northwards burning oil and rubber, tired and travel stained, thinking of home.
It was lashing down with rain when they left the motorway at Bretton and followed the ridge east of Huddersfield. Ragged grey clouds swathed the landscape, scudding on a westerly gale, parting now and again to afford glimpses of distant nameless moorlands. Within half an hour they were crossing the river at Royd Bridge, following the winding road up the steeps to Mytholms village, and then bumping down a farm road to Hollins Farm Cottage, the Wadsworths' precariously perched home.
The Cottage was an odd place. Half of it was the end range of Hollin's Farm, an ancient Pennine 'Longhouse' with mullioned and transomed windows, while the other half was of modern construction - an incongruous 'extension' built at right angles to it. Inside too, it was like 'The house that Jack built' - ancient stones and timbers giving way to modern plasterboard and brick. In the lounge, an old fireplace with a cracked stone mantelpiece looked towards a dark room lit by crude stone mullions, yet beyond, in the dining kitchen all was modern sweetness and light! Frank Howarth hadn't bought the house out of love for its architectural charms - it was for what lay beyond those dark mullions - a breathtaking view along the steep sided valley below - his home an eagles nest perched high above the woods houses, mills, canal and railway. Here, perched on this high shelf of farmland between river and moorland sky a man might feel free.
He did not feel so today however. As he helped cart his families' goods and chattels across the wet and windy cobbled farmyard to the front door, he felt he had had enough. Driving through Europe had been a fine adventure, but the return journey had been harrowing to say the least. Two more days and he would be at work again. He just needed to rest awhile. When they had got everything in, the fire lit, and coffee in the mug, he made his play.
"Early night love?"
There was no wink. His wife understood. He meant it.
"Yes I think so Frank. I don't know about you but I'm whacked. You go now if you like. When I've settled the kids and had a good hot bath I'll come and join you."
Annie Howarth pulled the bathrobe around her shoulders and turned out the bathroom light. All was still in the house. The hot water had done its work on her tired body, she felt warm, rosy and if not invigorated, at least relaxed and ready for sleep. Padding down the landing in her carpet slippers, she poked her head into the girls bedroom. All was still save for the sound of the wind rustling the tree outside.The master bedroom was located in the old part of the house. Unevenly plastered walls, weathered oak beams. The large divan bed lay just opposite the mullioned window. She listened. Her husband was rambling in his sleep.
"Tha'd better not lass, what will thi feyther say? Nay.......give ovver will thi! I'm tired..... so tired..... don't tell 'im .... tha'll not tell 'im wilt tha!"
Next morning at breakfast as the sun cast its rays through the narrow mullions,she raised the subject.
"Do you know you were talking in your sleep Frank when I came to bed?"
"Really. You were talking very strange too. Broad Yorkshire. Not like you usually speak. You sounded like your grandad!"
"...And another thing Frank....."
"Who's Betty Crabtree............... ??!!
The wild rainy weather had blown itself out. Today it seemed like a passing memory, as summer gently reasserted itself once more. Feeling harrassed and not a little indignant Frank Howarth had made his excuses, pulled on his wax jacket and boots, and with a passing hallo to the farmer next door set off up the farm road in the direction of Far Intake.
It was good to be back. Frank's love affair had long been with the hills, and the wild lonely places. His wife on the other hand, liked towns, trains, buses and markets. Moving to the cottage had been a compromise. High up on the valley slopes it hung between two worlds, looking down on pulsing artery of civilisation, which wound through a cleft scotched from the landscape long ago by retreating ice. Below, deep in this ravine, were shops and schools, communications and factories, but any uphill stroll would quickly reveal a dark blasted landscape of rolling heaths and acid wastes, of lonely, peaty moors crowned by grotesque wind sculptured outcrops of black millstone grit. Desolation, stretching endlessly was the true signature of the landscape, mans creation, with its mills, canals and railways but a passing intrusion into a land consumed by itself, scoured and chastened by wind and rain, in love with its own rawness and naked joy. Yes, it was good to be back.
Beyond the farm road at Far Intake, Howarth squeezed through a mossy stile and followed the muddy path up the left bank of Lee Gill, the moorland torrent grinding and thrutching through the narrow defile, the sun casting rainbows on the spume of boiling cascades and illuminating the brown depths of log choked, peaty pools. As he ascended, the path gave way to slippery stone steps, beyond which the water spilled over the broken lip of Lee Mill Dam. Above the millpond, tucked in a fold between crags and boulder strewn birch woods, the gaunt chimney and tumbled masonry of Lee Mill stared sightlessly down the hillside. On hot, summery evenings with the kids Frank had seen bats flitting round the mossy ruins, but on this fine, fresh morning there was nothing but the buzz of insects and a gentle breeze rustling the bracken and gorse. Once, on dreary winter mornings, in the cold dark before dawn this lonely place would have echoed to the clatter of childrens clogs, snaking lines of flickering lanterns ascending slowly and dejectedly to long days of unremitting toil, but now Mammon's Temple had fallen, its massive, riven walls home only to the cold toad and the screech owl.
Above the millrace a wide stone slab bridged the torrent, beyond which steps ascended to a open country - the bleak plateau of Brockholes Moor. Howarth, sweating and gasping from the steep ascent of Lee Gill, plodded wearily along the narrow, soggy footpath, stumbling at times, as he headed towards a gap in a broken wall he could now see on the skyline. Beyond the gap ran Dick's Gate, an old drove road, once a busy thoroughfare for man and beast, now a muddy waterlogged gully between shattered walls, leading down the moorside below Balkram Edge to Wellheads, a gaunt ruin at a junction of ways. Wellheads had once been an inn, but it had declined in the fifties, and was now merely a hollow, ruinous shell, perched high above the valley at a junction of half forgotten ways, a highway for hikers, a shelter for sheep. Skirting the entrance to the derelict quarries at Dicks Delf, Howarth soon gained the summit of Balkram Edge, a windswept coxcomb of grotesquely sculptured boulders, abandoned millstones and cloven crags beloved by novice rock climbers. At the top of this mighty buttress, blackened by the smoke of vanished industry, a long, pointed rock jutted out high over the moor - the Witches Nose. Gasping and sweating, the blood pumping in his temples, Howarth made for it, drawn by something - he knew not what.
The top of the Witches Nose was curiously fluted by the action of aeons of scouring winds and driving rain. At one end a round basin had been worn from the rock. This was filled to the brim with clear rainwater, the upland breeze gently rippling its bright surface. Still gasping for breath, Howarth sat down beside it, looking out over the deserted moor, following the line of Dicks Gate far below. The sun passed behind a cloud, and as it did so he was seized with a powerful feeling of deja vu. Something, like a half forgotten memory, drew his eyes to the very tip of the witches nose. Incised deeply in the rock, well weathered but still readable, he could make out three initials, which on closer examination revealed themselves as - 'J.E.B. 1939.'
Heart pumping, Howarth spun round, almost falling off the boulder in shock.
The man had appeared from nowhere, was stood silhouetted in the bright sunshine.
"Dear God man, you almost frightened me to death! I didn't see you there."
"Sorry lad, didn't mean to frighten you. You look awful!"
Howarth scrambled back to the safety of terra firma. He could see the man plainly now - Thick glasses, silver, receding hair and a red faced, mottled complexion, tall and thin, but with every indication of once having been rather more thick set. He was wearing a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, corduroys and strong shoes. He was leaning on a walking stick with a curious handle - a silver horses' head. He looked about seventy.
Howarth sat down on a nearby rock.
"I'll be alright. He wiped his brow. What did you say the initials were?"
"Jonathan Ernest Broadbent."
"How do you know?"
"He was an old friend of mine. I remember him carving it. Grand lad were wee Jonny Broadbent. Sad loss."
"Yes. He died in the war. Went to France and never came back. Always said he would, but he never did. There was a rumour that he took up with the 51st Highland Division, but they got cut off and had to fight their way through to St. Valery. Not many of them lads came out alive and Jonny weren't among 'em. For many years I thought he might still be alive, but he never came home. When I was younger I used to come up here in the hope he might turn up, 'cos he swore to me he'd come back. But the years passed, the war ended and that was that!" Howarth smiled at his new found companion.
"It's strange you know......"
"Well your friends' name .... Jonny Broadbent you say...?"
"It seems familiar. I can't place it. But it's almost as if I've encountered it before."
"You live in Royd Bridge?"
"Near enough. Hollin's Farm Cottage."
"I know it. Footpath goes up to it from Holmes Park, up through Halfacre Wood."
"That's right. But how does that connect with...."
"Jonny Broadbent? His name's on the war memorial down in Royd Bridge - in Holmes Park. That'll be where you've seen it, if you regularly pass that way."
Howarth smiled."You seem very well informed Mr.....?"
"Hanson. Frank Hanson. No mystery really lad. I'm Chairman of the committee at the British Legion Club."
"I see. Pleased to meet you Mr. Hanson. My names Frank as well - Frank Howarth. Excuse me if I don't stand up. I still feel a bit whacked from climbing up here."
Hanson laughed. "A young gimmer like you? You ought to be able to sprint up Balkram Edge. Past it at forty five? Wait till you get to my age!"
"What makes you think I'm forty five."
"Some folks count tree rings. I count the grey hairs above your temples! You should be quite fit, all that swimming you did in France!"
Howarth shivered. His smile faded.
"How did you know I was in France?"
"Jonny told me!"
Howarth could feel blood pounding in his temples. A tight feeling in his chest.His head hurt.
"Jonny.... told you...?"
The sky was spinning around.
"Yes... he said he'd come back.... didn't you Jonny?"
The head pain was searing. The darkness exploded, sucking him to its bosom.
"I remember.... the dream...... he was in the dream.............. !
It was at the end of a dark corridor. The approaching pinprick of light, the advancing, echoing voices, the tight pressure on his hand.
"Can you hear me Mr. Howarth? Mr. Howarth?
"You had a seizure Mr. Howarth. You're in the Royal Halifax Infirmary."
"My head...... hurts...."
"You'll be alright Mr. Howarth. Your wife's waiting outside. Just relax, you'll be right as rain in a few minutes."
"Is it serious...... doctor.... how long have I been here?"
"About two hours... and its not especially serious. Although it could be if you don't start taking things a bit easier Mr. Howarth. You have a minor heart problem."
"Are you going to keep me in here then?"
"Just overnight, for observation Mr. Howarth. We'll fix you up with some medication and discharge you from hospital tomorrow."
Howarth felt relieved. "And my wife... you said she was outside?"
The doctor motioned to the the nurse behind him. "You can let Mrs Howarth in now nurse." He turned back to his charge. "I'll leave you to it now Mr. Howarth. I'll see you again on my morning round."
"Very good doctor."
He was pleased to see Annie. More pleased than he ever imagined he could be. The swirl of her hair, her perfume, the sound of her voice. How easily, he thought, all those things could have been parted from him forever. And the kids.... what about them? His two little girls?
He pressed his hand into hers.
"And where've you parked the lasses then love?"
"Its O.K. Frank, they're with your mum. Fine end to our holiday this, Frank Howarth isn't it?"
"I should have known love, I should've know there was something wrong when I had that funny do in France." He smiled ironically. "Should have known better to go rambling in my condition eh love? Getting past it now aren't I?"
His wife was not amused "It's not a joke Frank. Stick with the same attitude and next time it could wind up in the mortuary. Is that what you want? Two young girls without a daddy?"
"I'm sorry love. I suppose I've been lucky. Shouldn't have gone up there on my own. Good job Mr. Hanson was there to raise the alarm."
"Hanson. Frank Hanson. Chairman of the local British Legion. I was talking to him when I passed out."
Annie Howarth paled visibly. "There was no-one up there with you Frank. You were spotted by a mountain biker who raised the alarm. The fell rescue people took you off."
"But what about....."
"What did you say he was called?"
"Hanson. Frank Hanson."
"What did he look like love, this Mr. Hanson?"
"Tall man, silver hair, reddish complexion."
"Did he have a walking stick with a silver horses head handle?"
"Why yes love..... how did you know?"
"Oh my God! Dear God!"
"What's the matter love."
"Mister Hanson. I knew him Frank. He was chairman of the local Legion. I used to clean his house for him when I was a Home Help. He was a nice old gentleman."
"Well that's just it Frank. My friend Irene found him in his bed. He couldn't have been up there with you. He died the year before last................... !!
High up on lonely Brockholes Moor, where the broken walls of Dicks Gate hug the skyline, a floating light flickers in an instant of time and space and is gone. Folk down in Royd Bridge say its hippies dossing down for the night in the ruins of the old Well Heads. Elderly passers by laugh and put it down to Old Nick still serving pints up there. But if you were to take hiking boots and a torch, along with your courage in both hands, and take a look yourself you would find nothing but a ruin filled with sheepmuck and the moaning of wind through shattered stones. The dead see you coming.
"Ramsdens best. By 'eck ther nowt like it Frankie lad, nowt like it. Seeps down like drippin' on a flitch o' bacon."
"Then get it dahn thi Jonny. So's tha can get another in afore he calls time.
Two more bitters Norman! We got summat ta celebrate toneet!"
"I towd thi I'd get back didn't ah?"
"I waited as long as I could Jonny, as long as I could."
"I knaw." He raised his glass. "Here's to thee Frankie 'anson!"
"An here's to thee Jonny Broadbent!"
The bell chimed. "Its time gentlemen! Sup up!"
Jonathan Broadbent put down his empty glass on the cast iron table. He smiled sadly at his friend.
"So here's where it all ends then Frankie."
Hanson smiled "Ends, Jonny boy? Nay lad, here's where it all begins.......!"