THE CINDER PATH by Yelena Kopylova

Book: THE CINDER PATH by Yelena Kopylova Read Free Book Online
Authors: Yelena Kopylova
    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
    Farmer Kelly.
    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! , . .
    hello, Charlie."
    "I've been wanting to get a word with you, I've
    never seen you over the holidays. I wanted to say
    Happy Christmas."
    "Oh, thanks, thanks, Charlie, an' the same
    to you."
    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.
    It's important."
    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

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