The Telling

The Telling by Jo Baker

Book: The Telling by Jo Baker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jo Baker
him every so often bringing parcels for the Wolfendens or the Forsters.
    ‘I was told to deliver this here.’
    His face was all red with the strain and the weight of the box.
    ‘We’re not expecting anything; you’ve got the wrong house.’
    He took a couple of staggering steps backwards, turned, and dumped the box down on our front wall.
    ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re in luck, then.’
    ‘Don’t you dare,’ I said.
    He brushed his hands together, shook his head, smiled. ‘Too late.’
    The box crushed the little creeping thyme plant that grows in the wall; I could smell its fragrance.
    ‘We are not going to pay you for that, you know.’
    He tugged his jacket straight. ‘It’s paid for in advance.’
    Dad. What had he done? ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘whatever he told you, we can’t afford –’
    The carter spoke over me, his complacency infuriating: ‘It’s no fault of mine if your husband doesn’t reckon up every expense with you.’
    He heaved himself up on to the seat, and flicked the reins. The horse took a step forward, and the slack went out of the harnessing; the wheels began to turn, and I was left standing there, mystified, watching as the cart pulled away up the village street, looking at the back of the carter’s greasy hat and his narrow shoulders in mouse-coloured fustian. Then I noticed the words scrawled across the top of the box in wide chalk letters. Robert Moore, Esquire.
    I felt a sudden flush of self-consciousness. The words of that conversation were like moths around my head. Us. I’d said. We. The carter had said husband. Mr Moore. I was back in that half-sleeping dream of the dark room; I was standing over him, bending to him; his arm was curling around me, drawing me down towards him. The dark warmth.
    My hand had risen to my lips; I snatched it away. I looked at the box on our front wall, scrawled with Mr Moore’s name. This must have been what the Reverend meant, when he asked me to be watchful, and tell him what I saw.
    I’d bring the box up to his room.
    I couldn’t carry everything at once. I ran in with my basket, shook out the shirts and shifts and sheets and pillowslips and draped them on the clothes horse, the dolly and the chairs, to let them air; three families’ stuff all muddled together; we’d sort it out afterwards. The carter had been struggling with the box, but he was a slight little person; it shouldn’t be too difficult to shift. I was straightening up and pushing my loose hair back, and turning to go out again, and there, at the foot of the stairs, in waistcoat and shirtsleeves, his shirt open at the neck so that I could see a dip where throat and chest met, was Robert Moore.
    ‘It’s you,’ I said.
    He bowed his head in acquiescence.
    ‘I didn’t think there was anybody home.’
    ‘A half-day’s holiday,’ he said.
    ‘There’s a package for you; it’s outside. I was going to bring it in.’
    I turned towards the door. My other shift, worn shamefully thin, looking grey as cobwebs to me now, was hanging over the back of a chair. My face began to heat. I lifted the latch and stepped out into the sunshine. He followed me out and down the steps. My clogs were hard on the stone slabs: he went quietly, leather-shod. I was very conscious of him, of his bodily presence, his warmth and his breathing; if I turned, he’d be just two steps away, two steps above; my face would be level with the middle button of his shirt.
    And then I realized. He’d been sitting up in my old room, waiting for his package, waiting for the carter to arrive. He’d have sat on the bed, with his back against the wall, and kept his eye on the street through the front window. You could see a good way up the village from there. You can also see the top of the wash-house lane. It was a favourite spot of mine, when it was my room; I’d sit with a book in my lap, looking out whenever movement caught my attention. If the casement is open, you can hear every word that passes in the

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