Chapter One, Ranter’s Wharf

Here goes – the first snippet of my new book, Ranter’s Wharf. Let me know if you want to be a beta reader and get a free copy sent to your kindle app.

William shivered, his patched smock offering little protection for a boy unused to standing motionless. His toes twitched on the bare earth, wanting to run, run away, anywhere but here. Tasting the faint tang of wood-smoke on the cool autumnal air, he gasped as the men lowered the box into the earth. He wanted to scream, shout Mama but bit his tongue to stop the sound escaping.  The painful image of his mother lying in the pine box, twisted his stomach into knots. He knew she lay in the coffin because he had seen her in it that very morning, before his father nailed down the lid; her skin pale and bloodless; her hair flowing around her shoulders like a raven’s wing. His father had told him to give her one last kiss and he leaned over to press his mouth to her cheek, flinching as his lips touched her icy, unyielding flesh.

She looked so peaceful and still, but Mama had never been still. From the time the sun woke until it set, there were things to do she said. He longed to climb in the box to lie against her and stared with jealousy at the small bundle in her arms. For eternity, that baby would lie with her but he, William, would never feel her hands yanking the wooden comb through his knotted hair; never hear her complaints about his torn and mucky clothes, nor feel her dig around in his skin with a needle to find the splinter in his hand. The worst thought of all, the one which caused his eyes to water was that he would never again have the comfort of her gentle hugs and kisses. He started as his little brother, Joe, attempted to climb up on the bench.

‘What’s in the big box?’ he had asked.

William hopped down and held him tight. ‘It’s the pirate princess,’ he said. ‘We need to save her from the wicked witch.’ Mama had drummed into him how he must always protect his younger brother.

Dada nodded to him. Take him outside, William.’

With a whoop, Joe ran through the door, followed more reluctantly by William, ready to battle with the witch as their father hammered in the nails, tap tap, tap. Each tap pierced William’s heart although it was no hardship to play Joe’s favourite game and it occupied them until it was time to leave.  Joe staying in his sisters’ care while their father thought William old enough to see his mother buried. After all, next harvest he would be of an age to work in the fields.

Salty drops formed in William’s eyes. He screwed up his eyes to stop them. Crying was forbidden, had he not he been told by Mama that crying was only for babies. He looked around at his older brother and father, shocked to see tears dripping down their freshly scrubbed faces, as the vicar spoke his words ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes’. William, unable to swallow for sadness, tasted the dust and ashes in his throat.

His father stooped to pick up some dirt from a pile of earth beside the grave and dropped it with a clatter on to the coffin, now so deep he felt sad that the sun would never reach her. She always complained of the cold. His brother, Tom, bent down in turn to gather dirt and William thought to do the same, his fingers closing around a lump of claggy soil. Tom walked to the edge of the grave and tossed the soil and pebbles down, then ran a sleeve over his eyes as he turned away. William moved forward in his turn, teetering on the edge of the yawning hole. He saw the rough planks of the lid far below. His arm extended and he opened his hand to watch as his tiny handful of earth fell splattering into the grave. Stepping back, Dada give him a half smile from a face contorted with pain. William ran to him and clasped his hands around his thighs, as his father stroked the top of his head. The mourners turned to depart once the gravedigger began to shovel earth from the mound beside the open grave.

As they walked the short distance down the lane to the cottage, an unseasonable icy wind from the north, blew into their faces. Even the clouds look sad, thought William, as he clung to his father’s hand. A smattering of rain hit the mourners and the men pulled on their woollen caps, which they had held throughout the service. Mama had always told him that women cover their heads in church while men take off their caps. She called it ‘respect’ but he did not understand why. It seemed daft to him.

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About Rosemary Noble

Writer, author, amateur historian and traveller
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