OFF TO SEE ALF
They played a merry game of snap and then retired to bed. What a lovely day it had been, and Bill was going to be back the day after tomorrow – lovely! The next morning the children were to set off to see Alf in his little hut as early as they could so that they would not miss him, for he would have to go out and shepherd his sheep ; Mrs Jordans had explained all this to them. Jack had a great big slab of ginger bread in his bag to give to Alf, which would maybe make Alf forgiving them a little easier! The children were rather disappointed to have to use their whole day to go and see Alf and apologise but Mrs Jordans insisted. She sent them all off straight after breakfast and waved them off. She felt sure that they would not disobey her and wander off into the hills, she was very fond of the children and trusted them greatly. So off they all marched, up Lowfell Hill.
They stopped as they had done yesterday, half way up and drunk from the spring. Lucy-Ann wasn’t looking forward to facing Alf and telling him she was sorry for peeping into his shed but she knew she must because she too had been peeping.
It was another pleasant day and the sun blazed down onto the children as they made their way steadily up the hill. They were tempted to have a nap but Philip objected. “Come on. We’ll never get to Alf’s if we have a nap – remember what happened yesterday. We don’t want to be late for tea.” So off they set again and soon arrived at Alf’s hut. They did not dare to peep in today but instead Jack knocked sharply on the front door.
“Who’s there?” came a gruff voice. Jack nudged Philip.
“We have come to say sorry for yesterday, we are the four children you saw peeping into your shed.” Philip explained. There was a pause.
“Come on in then.” was the reply. Philip pushed open the door and they all trooped in. They saw an old man sitting awkwardly in a large oyster coloured chair with a pipe sticking out of his mouth. He wore grey flannel clothes and a smart grey jumper and his face was rather stern and wrinkled. His mouth was a line and his eyes were harsh, but kind. He had a beard that covered his chin and his eye brows were thick and shaggy. He had a dog which was lay across his feet. When he saw the children, he left his master’s feet and went and sniffed the children’s ankles. Philip stroked him and at once, the dog fell under his spell and licked his hand. Alf watched in amusement.
“We’re very sorry to have upset you Alf. We brought you this, so you might forgive us.” Philip said standing up straight again and handing him the ginger bread.
Alf looked down at it and then back at the children, his eyes twinkling. “Thank you.” he said awkwardly. “And, I’m sorry I scolded you, I thought you were some of them ‘orrid kids that go about prying and poking their noses into things they shouldn’t, but you’re quite decent.”
The children looked pleased and Lucy-Ann thought Alf was marvellous. Then she did a very surprising thing which made the children gape! She actually went right up to Alf and gave him one of her bear hugs! These were Lucy-Ann’s great hugs which kept mainly for Bill, but today here was somebody else, she thought deserved one! “Oh, thank you for forgiving us!” she exclaimed, “I thought you mightn’t. But you have, and I do think you’re kind!”
The others watched in astonishment and Alf listened in even more surprise. “Steady on now!” he said kindly, “Now why shouldn’t I forgive you?” He pushed her off gently and she rejoined the other who were stood in a row before Alf, chuckling.
“Sit down” Alf said, “There’s not much room, but there’s space over there.” The children sat themselves down on the few chairs or perched on the edge of one of the arms.
The dog followed Philip at once and flopped down onto his feet now instead of his master’s. He was a black and white collie, rather fat. Philip stroked his soft fur and the dog licked him in return, as if in encouragement!
“ ‘Is name’s Scamp. ‘E is one as well!” Alf said looking at Scamp in surprise. “Not often ‘e takes a liking to someone though, especially kids. He barks at anyone that goes by this hut.” The children listened in interest and fondled Scamp who was pleased at the attention, but not very interested in it either. He had found a new master now – Philip, who he would do anything and everything for!
Alf was puzzled by his loyal dog’s behaviour and rather hurt too, though he did not show it. He became rather suspicious of Philip. Philip saw this look and quickly explained himself.
“Any animal loves me” Philip said, but not in a boasting voice. “As soon as they set eyes on me, I can make them like me and trust me. I keep them as pets too. You’ll never guess, I once had a bargua snake as a pet – it used to slither around me and live up my sleeve! At the moment I’ve only got a mouse, I call him Dormy. He’s got an injured leg though and I am looking after him until he recovers.” Dinah shuddered. Philip felt around his body as if he was trying to find the mouse, in fact, he was. Dinah retreated the corner of the room farthest away from her brother as he suddenly gave a relieved exclamation. “Ah, there he is in my left pocket.”
Alf watched in interest, hiding his delighted chuckles. ‘Who knew children could be such marvellous company?’ he thought. Philip finally detached the little furry animal from his pocket and held it up so Alf could see it. Alf looked at it in interest and nodded. “A very interesting group of children, I must say.” he remarked. Philip put away his mouse, ignoring the fierce glares Dinah was sending him. “And who does the parrot belong to?” Alf asked.
“Oh, she’s mine.” Jack said. “Her name’s Kiki. Say hello to Alf Kiki…”
Kiki stuck out her crest and waddled towards Alf. She had been sat beside Scamp and was ticking him off sharply for leaving the door open. She was glad some attention had finally been given to her. She looked at Alf carefully and he looked back. “POP!” She suddenly said. “POP POP POP!” Alf was startled but laughed at the funny bird politely but secretly, he was rather annoyed with her. “POP goes the weasel!” she chorused cheekily. “POP goes Alf!” Suddenly Jack felt alarmed. “Kiki” he hissed. “That’s enough!”
But Alf threw back his head and guffawed! He laughed and laughed and the children couldn’t help joining in, and Kiki too! Finally Alf rubbed his eyes and leaned forward and stroked Kiki’s head. She pecked his finger gently and then flew back onto Jack’s shoulder. He seemed very amused with the children and listened to their eager talk. They couldn’t see his amused smiles, for they were completely hidden in his beard! Lucy-Ann had figured that he was smiling though, for his eyes were twinkling and the skin wrinkling at the sides.
Alf listened to the children most of the time and enjoyed their interesting talk. Little did they know what interesting chatter he had to tell! They would soon know, however. Very soon indeed, and the children would find it much more interesting than Alf found their talk, however much he did enjoy it. He was one of them, it seemed! They could tell him anything, he seemed so open. And that was exactly what he thought about them! So this is why he began to tell them a secret which they all listened to. He began it when there was a pause between the children’s conversation. The conversation happened to be on the subject of the marsh and Alf’s ears pricked up at once, rather like a dog’s when he heard a noise in the night. The children began by innocently admiring the great view Alf had of it out of his window. It was Jack who had began, as he had been watching out of the window for the birds. He noticed the marsh, slopping against the surrounding rocks, rather like the tide of the sea lapping gently!
“What a wonderful view you have out of your window Alf. I can see the marsh perfectly well from this point.”
“Why would you want to?” Alf replied sharply.
“Oh, no reason. I was just interested in the birds that fly near here, apparently attracted by the marsh.” Jack said looking at Alf in surprise.
Alf seemed satisfied and sunk back down into his chair. He was chewing vigorously on his pipe and the children watched in interest.
“What is the tale of the Marsh, Alf do you know?” Philip suddenly said. “Mrs Jordans said there was an old story about it.”
Alf sat bolt up at once and stared at Philip. “It’s not a canny tale, young’un’s. Sure you want to ‘ear it? Most of the villagers are scared of it, but I’ll tell you if you want. Not many people know as much as I know…” he said mysteriously.
The children nodded eagerly. They sat back, and then the tale unfolded…