Whether the oath came just before or just after the crash of the door as it flew open might have become a subject for debate if anyone had cared to think about it. Either way, the two sounds introduced the Shepherd into the Kirk’us Inn on a quiet Saturday night at the height of Summer.
The gentle clatter of dominoes on the corner table ceased along with the score-marking and the banter. The Fitter, arrested mid-throw, stood with his third dart raised in anger looking back over his shoulder at the intruder. The Sailor paused mid-sentence in his explanation to the Carpenter of the brilliance of Nelson’s victory in the Battle of the Nile, and half a dozen tables of brightly cagouled holiday-makers, fresh from tramping the fells and resting their blistered feet, fell into a deep silence.
The Landlord, apparently taking this second expletive as a customer order, began pouring the Shepherd’s usual into a tall glass for which he received a random handful of small change from which to extract his due. Several pairs of eyes met and several shoulders shrugged in utter incomprehension.
“What’s up, Jake?” The Shepherd was not one to be confronted, or even approached with caution when he was in one of his humps, but the Singer was a mite braver than the rest.
“What’s up? I’ll tell ee what’s up.” The Shepherd grabbed the pint and turned to face the speaker. “That bluidy farrier borrowed my Lan’rover an’ drove it up t’front of a timber lorry up by th’ Hummers. That’s what’s up!”
“Bluidy ‘ell!” said the Sailor. “Is he alright?”
“Ee won’t be alroight when I get me ‘ands on ‘im, th’ daft wassock!”
“But is he alright?” the Sailor persisted.
The Shepherd muttered a few more oaths and pledges of dire retribution against the Farrier before calming down enough to give an explanation. “Oi reckon ‘e’ll live. They got t’fire engine out to ‘im. Ee got ‘is leg stuck under t’dashboard an’ they ‘ad t’take it off t’get ‘im oot.”
An audible gasp went round the visitors’ tables, a gasp that was quickly repeated when the Carver, at the doms table, started to chuckle. “Well, never mind. He’s got another one.”
“It’s not bluidy funny,” said the Shepherd, angrily. “I’ve on’y ‘ad that Landrover a month. It ain’t even paid for yet!”
“So how’s Les, Jake? Was he hurt bad?” The Sailor at least put the condition of the Farrier over that of his transportation even if the question sounded a wee bit stupid. And the visitors faces all turned towards the Shepherd eager to learn the fate of the poor victim.
“Oh, ee ain’t too bad. Got a nasty cut over ‘is eye. They reckon ee banged ‘is ‘ead on t’steerin’ wheel, but there weren’t no concussion, so they say. They loaded ‘im into th’am’blance an’ ee were makin’ all sorts o’ fuss. Ee wanted ‘em t’get ‘is leg out and bring it so ‘s they could put it back on at th’ospital, but it were still stuck under t’dashboard. Prob’ly still there.”
The hush that fell across the visitors’ tables was absolute as the locals continued to discuss the fate of the Farrier. They all knew that country people were… well, weird, but what they encountered that Saturday night left their mouths gaping. One woman, white of face, had already left the bar, headed for the conveniences.
“So, where’s the Landrover now?” asked the Singer.
“S’bin ‘auled off to t’scrapyard down’t Ulverston b’now I reckon.”
The Carver was still giggling obscenely and receiving several hard looks from locals and visitors alike. “They’re gonna get a right shock when they try to take the dashboard out,” he said.
“Still, your insurance’ll sort it out, Jake. What are you worried about?” said the Fitter, still holding the third dart apparently having forgotten what he was supposed to be doing with it.
“I know that. But what am I s’posed t’do in t’meantime. I got thirty ‘ogs to shift down t’Broughton Monday. Where am I goin’ t’get a Lan’rover this side o’ Monday?”
“You’ll be alright, Jake,” the Carpenter said from his stool at the bar. “Give Johnny a bell up at Birk Riggs. That old bus of his’ll pull your box OK and I don’t think he’s using it for the moment.”
“Yeah, I ‘adn’t thought about Johnny. Oi’ll ring ‘im in t’mornin’. Ee owes me for that trailer oi welded up for ‘im las’ Autumn.”
The conversation continued in like vein with several locals adding their wisdom to the problem of shifting hogs to Broughton. The third dart finally flew, missing the treble twenty by a whisker but knocking a respectable eighty points off the Fitter’s score. At the doms table the tiles resumed their friendly rattle as another round got underway. And the visitors maintained an eerie silence, a troubled gathering of the sane from the normal world trapped within the surreal madness of this remote Lakeland country inn. Visions of severed limbs invaded every mind and fear was present in every face. They had all heard, these soft city people, about the toughness of country folk, braving the storm to gather their sheep and bearing with the incredible hardships inflicted by nature in her terrible moods. But that they could be so hardy as to dismiss the dreadful plight of their fellow villager, as though his injury were a mere scratch, was beyond their understanding. Several groups got up and very quietly left the bar, trying desperately not to draw undue attention to themselves lest they be spoken to by a ‘local’ with God knew what consequences. A peel of laughter suddenly rang out from the doms table, piercing the silent pall of terror which held the remaining visitors firmly to their chairs. It was two worlds thrown together by fate, the urban and the rural from either side of the edge of madness.
Amongst the locals pints were drunk, doms fell and darts flew. Nelson’s destruction of Admiral Brueys’ flagship, L’Orient was discussed in some detail at the bar, the price of hogs at Broughton market got an airing and the Farrier’s leg went by without another mention. Visitor conversation around the bar slowly began again, but in muted whispers with, occasional glances towards the regulars and much shaking of heads. Those who wanted to depart had departed, leaving those who, despite their feelings of revulsion at the apparent callousness of the host population, were deeply curious and hopeful of witnessing further revelations concerning the saga of the Farrier’s leg. They were not to be disappointed.
With the encroaching dusk came another figure who proclaimed his localness by the rustic cut of his clothes and the broad local brogue. He entered by the same door the Shephard had tried to destroy bearing a long parcel, wrapped roughly in Hessian sacking, which he laid across the end of the doms table before crossing to the bar. “Pint o’ Guinness, if yer please, Landlord.”
“’Ello Wilf.” said the Shepherd, eyeing the bundle curiously. “What ha’ you bin up to, then?”
“Oh, jus’ getting’ Les sorted. Got your Lan’rover up at my place, though I don’ think you’n be wantin’ it n’more. Th’ain’t much left o’ t’front end.”
“So, ‘ow d’it ‘appen? What was t’pillock doin’ on t’other side o’ t’road?”
“Didn’t no-one tell yer? Alf’s dog ran out an’ Wilf swerved to miss ‘im. Couldn’t get back over in time.”
“Well, you tell ‘im nex’ time t’run over t’bluidy dog. If I catch it on t’road agin I’ll shoot t’bugger.”
Wilf retrieved the package and began untying the strings that held the Hessian wrapping in place. “I got ole Les’s leg though. Took a whoile to get it out, bein’ stuck under t’clutch pedal, but it don’ look too bad ‘ceptin’ a bit o’ damage roun’ th’ankle.”
A dozen chairs scraped back as most of the visitors backed away to the other side of the bar with looks of horror on their faces. Wilf began to tear the wrapping away from his trophy. “Oi thought, if Les don’ wan’ it back we might ‘ang it be’ind th’ bar – a sort o’ memento loike.”
A pink foot appeared at one end of the package and a woman screamed as near panic gripped the ranks of the visitors, several of whom were now making for the door. Wilf glanced around, realised the cause of the commotion, grinned and strolled across the bar to confront the quivering throng. “Oh, ee won’t mind, yer know.” Hauling away the hessian and dropping the leg on a table with a loud, metallic clatter he said, “Ee never liked this’n much ‘cause ee reckoned it chafed ‘is stump summat rotten. It is on’y ‘is spare!”
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