25. Mar, 2021

'Martyndale' Part 2

Grace woke on the morning of her second day with far more optimism.  Last night, conversation had been warm around the dinner table, she and Jamie talking to one another and everyone else, he laughing about the reluctant shepherdess who had enjoyed herself.  She had been rosy with the pleasure of being teased and included. 

Grace got up and dressed quickly.  There was no central heating as such at Martyndale and warmth depended on the efficacy of the wood burning stoves which somebody had to light.  There was no competition for the bathroom because they were all early rise working farm people and they had said that Grace should get up when she felt like it because she was here ‘for a rest’ after all.

Tonight, there was to be a fund raiser barn dance and  ‘Winter Fair’ produce market and buffet feast, so she was looking forward to some actual social life although she had said, with automatic scorn when it was mentioned,

“A barn dance!” and Jamie had jumped in with,

“Don’t expect too much.  It’s just an excuse for everyone to get rid of all their rotten old chutneys they’ve had festering away for years.”

“I’m going to shift some of mine,” Jill had said.  “I can’t imagine why my delicious pumpkin pickles haven’t been gobbled up by now.”

“They’re certainly unique, Mum!” Jamie had laughed, while Scott pulled a face and made gargling, death rattle noises.

“Rude!” Jill remarked equably.

Asa had stared at his plate, blushing and rocking furiously with the effort of working up to speaking and Scott touched his arm, saying,

“Asa’s going to play the concertina with me and the other musicians, aren’t you?”  Asa nodded furiously, his pixie large, stuck out ears scarlet with pleasure.  “He’s a natural.  Wait till you hear him, Grace.  He’s been practising with me playing the penny whistle.”

“We know, dad,” said Jamie pointedly.  “We’ve heard.”

Scott had just laughed good naturedly.  Remembering the happy atmosphere, Grace clattered off down the bare wooden stairs but as she was entering the kitchen, she heard Jill on the phone saying,

“I think we’re doing o.k., Ros.  She was pretty churlish to start with and not very kind, but we’ll see how we go.  Jamie seems to have made friends a bit.  So that’s something.  Don’t worry, Ros.  Grace is fine with us up here for a little while.”

Instant sensations coursed through Grace.  Resentment at being discussed so objectively and critically being the strongest.  It made her feel undermined and insecure.  How long was ‘a little while’?  Grace reminded herself that she hadn’t wanted to come here in the first place and she certainly didn’t want to stay on sufferance!  If Jill was talking about her like this, what did Jamie really think?  Perhaps nothing at all of what she was starting to feel herself?  Grace was a person of intense and instant feeling.

Her sense of wellbeing fled and she sulked into the kitchen, arms folded, her scowl back, that churn of familiar sensation that she was a rejected problem returning.  Jill turned to her with a warm smile, seeming to take no note of it.

“Good morning, Grace!  What would you like for breakfast?  We always have fresh laid eggs if you fancy?”

“No, thanks.  I’ll just get some cereal,” said Grace ill manneredly, thinking that Jill could just forget about being all ‘nicey nicey’, thank you very much! 

The words ‘Jamie seems to have made friends with her, so that’s something,” seemed to contain a wealth of reservation about her that wounded.

“Fine,” said Jill brightly.   “Whatever you’d like to have.  Afterwards, I could do with a hand feeding the hens and then we’ll let them out for a wander.”

“All right,” shrugged Grace.

“I’ve just had your Aunt Ros on the phone.  It’d be nice if you gave her a ring later, maybe?  Tell her how you’re getting on.”

“You’ve already done that, haven’t you/” retorted Grace, her tone revealing that she had overheard.

“She’d like to hear from you,” Jill replied pleasantly and while Grace held on to her resentment as was her way, she knew that what Jill had said of her had been true.  In reality, it was the mention of Jamie and ‘a little while’ that had hurt her feelings and made her feel that the proffered intimacy was spurious.

She could hear some folk music being played on a button box concertina nearby and made a mocking moue at this rustic intrusion, designed to suggest that it was irritating to her civilised sensibilities.  Scorn for it was still on her face when the music stopped and Asa appeared, havering in the doorway.

“Did you hear Asa playing?” asked Jill.

“Yeah,” said Grace crushingly.

“Isn’t he great?”

Grace shrugged indifferently, continuing with her cereal and Asa’s face fell. 

“Good”, thought Grace. “That’s one in the eye for you, Jill”, but nevertheless she felt bad about it. 

Jill remained level, above Grace’s childish barbs, which was annoying too, as was being jollied along, although Grace knew that her own manner was causing it.  Jill applauded.

“That was just lovely, Asa!  I can’t wait to hear you tonight!” 

This was enough for Asa to lift his head again although, glancing at Grace, he still lingered in the doorway uncertain of his welcome. 

“Fine - let somebody else worry about that as well as me”, thought Grace, continuing to eat as slowly as possible and not looking at him.

“Tell you what!” said Jill cheerily.  “Asa, will you come out with me and start feeding the hens?  There’ll be eggs to collect, I hope!”  Asa perked up and came eagerly in to take the lined basket Jill was holding out to him.  “Grace, you finish your breakfast and come out if you feel like it.  We’ll be just out in the yard there.”

Grace gave a superior kind of smirk by way of response to let Jill know that if she was trying to make Grace feel as if she were missing out on something, it wasn’t going to work.  She wasn’t five years old, you know!  Still, when they did go out happily together, Grace did feel left out and called after Jill,

“Where’s Jamie?  I’ll go up with him again instead, I think.”

“Oh, I’m afraid he and Scott have already gone out to get an early start on it today.  The weather’s turning later.  We thought you’d prefer a lie in.  There’s a bag of scraps by the kitchen sink you can bring out for the chuckies, by the way!” Jill turned to answer breezily.

“Right,” said Grace flatly, feeling further crestfallen.

She sat on her own in the cool of the kitchen where the fire hadn’t really got going on warming the house yet, pulling her jumper sleeves over her hands.  Then, she mooched across to the window where she could see Jill and Asa opening bins of feed and scooping grain out.  After a few minutes, she picked up the bag of vegetable peelings and went to join them.  The hens were in a fussing huddle over the food, others making broodily clucking noises.

“Eggs!” Asa said eagerly, lighting up and Grace, without saying anything, followed him into the wooden shed hut.

Proudly and carefully, he showed her how to gather the few new laid eggs.  There was a tenderness to their quiet activity, which was touching and when they emerged Grace said,

“Thanks,” to him, eliciting an answering smile of surprise and a reddening of the large, sensitive ears which, like those of a nervous animal, seemed to signal his timid emotions.

Jill’s face, watching them, relaxed slightly into mild approval but Grace continued to ignore her because her bristling insecurities had been brushed so far up the wrong way by what she had overheard - breaking out, like hives, into visible incivility.

When they went back inside, Grace took herself off to ring her aunt from her room, but their conversation was awkward, easy words backed up in the silt left by the stormy emotional upheavals between them.  While Grace had wanted to tell her about bringing down the sheep yesterday with the enjoyment she had experienced at the time, it was spoilt for her by hearing Jill talk of her to Aunt Ros with those reservations she had expressed.

“So, how is it?” asked her aunt briskly and Grace just said,

“All right,” leaving a silence dangling.

“What have you been up to, then?”

“Not a lot.  Just farm stuff.  We collected eggs today,” she offered.

“Lovely!” enthused her aunt.  “Why don’t you make an omelette for everyone for lunch by way of a thank you?”

“What have I got to thank anyone for?” retorted Grace.  “I got sent here, didn’t I?  Nobody asked for it!”

“Right, Grace,” said her aunt, instantly as fully irritated and offended as Grace had intended.  “I’ll leave you to it, then.”

“There’s a dance tonight,” Grace finished.  “I might go.  Some hayseed effort,” she added, condemningly but inviting her aunt Ros to join in and be slightly amused by her sarcasm, as she often was.

“Why don’t you make some effort!” her aunt said crossly, missing the olive branch.

Another silence fell.

“Bye, then,” said Grace cockily, ringing off.

Chagrin stayed with her and she remained in her room until later on to make some point to someone, if only to herself, playing games on her mobile phone.  Jill was busy somewhere doing something or other with Asa and she felt rebuffed, too, by Jamie having gone out so early with his father when he must have known she would have wanted to go too.  Grace allowed her sense of injustice free rein and kept herself to herself.  Scott and Jamie returned at lunchtime and she came down.  It had started raining heavily outside and the view of the hillsides and high skies was just a blackened darkness which felt lowering.

They were talking of a sheep auction to take place in the afternoon and the discussion about taking the unwanted male lambs for butchery sale was depressing.

“I think it’s really cruel!” said Grace.  “Why do that to them?”

“That’s farming, I’m afraid, Grace,” said Scott.  “There are some cruel necessities involved in it, I’m afraid but it’s all part of keeping sheep.  A herd can only keep one successful ram.  Some go for breeding, others for meat. That’s how it is.”

Jamie seemed disposed to be sympathetic to her soft heartedness and said,

“It’s not easy to understand, I know,” but Grace was still prickling about being left behind and said rudely,

“I’m not stupid!”

“Nobody said you were!” returned Jamie, with a return to the angrily frosty withdrawal she had first experienced from him.  Having finished his meal, he said, ”I’ll catch up with you in the jeep, dad.  I’ve got stuff to do first” leaving them all, including Grace, to it.

She bit her lip, feeling emotional again about wrong footing herself.  Nobody took any notice and Grace realised that she would be left to sulk or get over herself as she pleased by these calm and practical people.  The choice was hers.  In a way, it enabled her to come to herself by degrees while still wanting to be appeased.

By the late afternoon, Jill had involved her in packing up a food box of contributions and, together with Asa, she carefully date stamped the eggs from the morning for the eggboxes.  Then she went to have a shower and wash her hair before putting on her best skinny jeans and ankle boots with a provocatively sloganed t-shirt in bright colours.  ‘In Your Face’ it said pleasantly across her cleavage.

Jill forbore to comment but suggested a jacket as it wasn’t all that warm in the barn, because the dance occasion was taking place it seemed, in an actual barn.  Grace pulled on a fake sheepskin lined denim one and said, as they were all setting off,

“See?  You don’t always have to kill real sheep!” but it came out challengingly and although Scott laughed obligingly, Jamie just looked the other way.  When they arrived, he said,

“You can come and meet some of the rubes if you like, Grace?  Of course, they’re probably a bit too rustic for you but they haven’t all been through the sheep dip before setting off.”

“Fine,” she said.  “Just as long as they don’t murder lambs by way of a living,” and this time Jamie did smile, with one of his sideways looks at her.

She looked back up at him through the over long fringe which had fallen over one eye from the side, unbeknown to her making the t-shirt look like the rebellious defiance of the teenager she still was rather than liberated siren, as she thought.

“Come on, you,” he said, taking her hand and drawing her into a circle by the micro-brewery and home brewed wine trestle table.

That Jamie was popular soon became evident, and there was clear girl interest among those who already knew him well.  They looked at Grace, being drawn along by him so casually, with a speculative caution.

“Good,” thought Grace.  “I’m competition.”

The ‘band’ of locals shambled on and arranged themselves, after a few false starts, into a group of passable musicians.  Some haphazard line dancing got underway, Jamie and Grace joining in.  Then it broke up into swapping about, arm to arm swinging about between couples.  Grace was weeded out by two pretty and efficient girls monopolising a laughing Jamie between them.

She moved aloofly away and joined Jill behind the jam and kilner jars.

“I made some peanut brittle for this,” Jill said doubtfully of it, prodding a sticky looking corner with distaste.

“I think it’s got a soggy bottom,” Grace said gravely, making Jill laugh.

“Where’s Jamie?” asked Jill.  “Did you get bored of dancing?”

“I thought I’d take a break,” said Grace, lifting her chin.  “Do you know Carrie and Zena over there?”

Jill glanced across.

“Oh, yes.  I know them.  They’re part of his crowd.”

“I suppose it’s close knit here,” Grace observed off-handedly.  “I meet new people all the time.  I’ve had lots of boyfriends.”

“I see,” said Jill, seeing where Grace’s mind had headed.  “ You like a change, do you?”

“I don’t get tied down,” Grace pronounced thinking, with only slight regret, of Buzz, her recent ex.

“Neither does Jamie, I don’t think,” said his mother.  “I haven’t known him to have any serious girlfriends yet.”

“Oh,” responded Grace with an apparent indifference which made Jill smile to herself.  “I suppose you and Scott have been married forever?”

“It can certainly feel like centuries,” Jill agreed wryly, making Grace smile in return.

The musicians swapped about so that the first players could join in with the festivities and Asa appeared, the tips of his ears very red.  He mumbled something and Jill looked at Grace, who turned away affecting not to have noticed him, just as Jamie came back from the dance floor in time to hear Jill say,

“Never mind, Asa.  I’ll dance with you,” leading the tongue tied youth, who was looking back, abashed and disappointed, in Grace’s direction, to the dance floor.

“Poor Asa,” said Jamie.  “I hate disappointing him.  He’s like a kid finding out Santa doesn’t exist, isn’t he?”

“I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea,” said Grace.

“Better if none of us did, I should think!” Jamie replied, turning touchy again himself and instead of asking Grace to dance with him again, as she had expected, he stalked away back to his other friends, leaving her alone and unsure if he were punishing her for not dancing with Asa or had misunderstood her altogether. 

She regretted her supercilious air instantly and also her meanness to Asa.  It wouldn’t have cost her anything to dance with him and then things between herself and Jamie would be different now.  Jamie avoided her for most of  the rest of the evening apart from general company, and although she relented and danced with Asa (a mistake since he hung about closely at her side for the rest of the night, hampering her from trying to speak to Jamie again) Jamie did not respond by unbending towards her or particularly trying to talk to her.  When they all returned to Martyndale again that night and Asa went to bed, she followed him up soon afterwards, disheartened and in a far less sanguine state of mind than she had been that morning.  Then, uncharacteristically, on impulse, she came back downstairs to where Jamie and his parents were making ready for early morning starts, things being prepared for kindling fires and setting up breakfast.

“Jamie, can I talk to you?” she asked.

He came out of the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs with her.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  “I didn’t mean it like that.  Not at all.  Not to you, Jamie.  And I did dance with Asa, didn’t I?”

She said this last as if he had to have seen the funny side of that given how Asa, encouraged by her act,  had stuck beside his newfound friend relentlessly, if innocently.

The start of a smile began in Jamie’s eyes and then he threw his head back in that abandoned laughing that you couldn’t help but join in with.

“I know.  I saw,” he said.  “Bless him.”

“Well, then,” said Grace, as if he surely must see the problem there.

“I know,” said Jamie because he did.   “Hey,” he added lightly.  “That’s all right, then,” and bending, he gave her a quick kiss on the mouth.  “Come on, you, let’s grab some supper” and, taking her hand, he led her back into the kitchen.

Scott and Jill smiled at them both and once again, Grace felt that things here were positive and that Jamie really did begin to care for her, as she knew she already did for him.

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