as much as she could see of it; and then she saw him in the corner of her vision. She could see only his head and
his hands; he was laughing and was clapping as loudly as the rest.
There was a final great whoop of sound; the dancing
stopped and the clapping faded away; but she had
to repeat a number of times, "Excuse me.
Excuse me, please," before those in the doorway
parted to allow her through to the table that had been cleared at the end of the room.
As she put the full plates on the table and
picked up the empty ones, the laughter and voices
beat down on her and she said to herself, "It isn't fair; it's Miss Nellie's birthday party but
they're making it more like a rowdy New Year's do."
This was the third Christmas she had been
here, having taken up the post almost immediately after her father had died, but in all the parties they had had she had never seen so much drink flowing as there was tonight; nor so much-she hesitated on the word-jollification. And
anyway, it wasn't like a jollification; well, not
a jollification People of the Chapmans' standard were
known to indulge in, it was more approaching something she imagined one would see in the Wayfarers' Inn on the
high road, where the drovers got together after a big
market and things went on, so she had heard, that would sizzle your eyebrows.
As she stretched over to retrieve an empty
plate, she glanced to where Mrs MacFell was
sitting, and she gave a small shake of her head.
She got worse as she got older. Dressed
to kill. Her frock would have suited someone half her
age. They said she was on the lookout for a man.
Well, if nothing else, her getup would make her
fall between two stools, for to a young man she would
look like mutton dressed up as lamb, while to a
farmer who wanted a working wife she'd look like a
giddy-headed goat. Mr Chapman said that she had
gone back twenty years to when she first came to the
farm as a young scatterbrained lass, and that was what
she was acting like now. Her head was back,
her mouth was wide open and her hands were flapping at
As she wended her way out of the room, Polly's
eyes again searched for Charlie. She must have a word with him, she must; but the only hope she'd have of
waylaying him would
be when he went to the men's closet outside. And so
from now on she'd keep on the watch because surely
they'd want nothing more to eat, not for a while anyway; she'd carried four tray-loads of food in there in
the past half hour.
She had heard the boss say that you could drink your
fill to over-flowing as long as you ate with it, and he was certainly seeing that everybody did that the night. The stuff he had hauled up from the cellar was nobody's
business; he had even brought up bottles that were
twenty years old, the ones he usually bragged about.
She paused for a moment between the doors. It
wasn't like a birthday party at all, it was as if
he was celebrating something . . . aye, or hoping
to celebrate something. She turned about on a gasp
as a hand caught her arm.
"Hello there, Polly."
"Oh!" She now took in a short, sharp breath,
smiled, then said again, "Oh! , . .
"I've been wanting to get a word with you, I've
never seen you over the holidays. I wanted to say
"Oh, thanks, thanks, Charlie, an' the same
In the lamplit passage they smiled at each
other. Then her face suddenly becoming straight, she
whispered rapidly, "And I... I want to have a
word with you, Charlie. Can I see you, I mean
outside like, for a minute or so? It's important,
Charlie, I'll . . . I'll go over to the dairy
in ... in ten minutes or so, an' I'll wait.
There was a burst of laughter beyond the passage
door, then it was pushed wide and Nellie entered,
accompanied by two laughing girls about her own age.
She paused a moment to look at Polly disappearing
into the kitchen; then laughing, she came towards