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Jack

Jack held her close, he could not believe his luck, here was this lovely girl holding on to him, but more importantly, she knew of the stigma that had followed and haunted him all of his life, only to fade when he went across the sea's to fight England's enemies in world war one, and when he came back with a bullet wound through his neck, and damaged lungs through being caught in a gas attack, he had thought that the village would have forgotten his birth, but no, the old folk still looked at him in contempt, for was he not born out of wedlock?, and no matter how hard he fought for his country, he was a bastard, even his brothers and sisters, of whom there were many, carried a different name to him.

He remembered the humiliation of being sneered at by the teachers and the children, when his name was deliberately called out first, Jack Walker, present Miss, Jean Stuart, present Miss, William Stuart, present Miss, and the rest of the family proudly answered their names, leaving him to feel even more isolated.

He had to sit by himself of course, up the corner away from the rest of the class, for there would have been complaints from the parents, whose child was made to sit with a bastard, that would never be allowed to happen.

There was a lot of talking and prophesying of doom, when the good looking Jack Walker courted Lilly Martin, a young girl from a large labouring family, fortunately for Jack, this family were rough and uncouth, and were not held in very high regard by the rest of these god fearing people, who admitted amongst themselves, that perhaps that family were about the same level as that bastard, that Jack loved Lilly was evident for all who cared to see, she was the love of his life, and he walked proudly down the aisle with her arm linked in his as Mr and Mrs Jack Walker'

And when later, she presented him with a baby boy, his joy and love held no bounds, and when she held out her tiny son for him to hold, he hugged and hugged this miracle of life, that belonged only to him and his beloved Lilly, he smoked, but stopped going into any pub, for she had sat him down, and holding his two hands firmly in hers, looking into those black shiny eyes, had said from the very first day as a married couple, we must look to the future, do you want to slave for others, when we could be working for ourselves?, do you see any farmers working like you do?, does Mr Smith the Butcher have to worry about no money coming in?, we must work and save, so that we can one day own our own farm, promise me!, he looked into her lovely large brown eyes, and whispered, you are right Lilly my love, [we will win through,] I promise you.

And he worked hard and fast, piecework was slowly being introduced, as more and more intensive crops were being grown, and Lilly would leave her lad with young Joan Chalders for a few shillings, while she picked the potatoes or singled the sugar beet on a nearby farm, they worked hard and saved hard, and they helped each other in the house, he would wash up the dinner things, and she would dry, something unheard of in any English household, for the man never did any house work, but what more could you expect from that kind of person!!, but this couple had a dream, and no matter what other people said and thought, they were going to live it.

So for two years they had worked and saved and planned their future, Jack was so happy, he sang or whistled as he worked, the dreams they shared of their little farm stead forever in his thoughts, then one evening coming home after a hard day planting the celery, Jack was supprised to see Lilly's mum and dad waiting at his gate, he hadn't had a lot of time for them, it was hard to believe that this rough hard swearing heavy drinking couple were the parents of the most wonderful girl in the world, puzzled he hopped of his bike, what's up he queried?, OH" lad the old lady cried, Lilly has the cough, and has been very sick. We are taking young Tom with us, for she is in no state to have him near.

Jack threw the bike down, and ran into the cottage, the old Doctor turned as he came running in, ah" glad you are here, now your wife must be kept warm, and given plenty of hot drinks, she is a bonny lass, and will with good care soon be out of her bed, Jack went to where she lay, she looked up at him, and smiled weakly, tried to speak but was caught in a spasm of harsh deep coughing, don't try to talk urged Jack softly, just you stay there and keep warm, and I will make you a nice hot drink, the Dr handed him a box of tablets, see that she has one of these with a glass of water every night he said kindly, and as I said before, keep her warm.

The distraught husband hurried back to her side, as a fresh outburst of coughing shook his wife's body violently, he held the warm drink and tried to get her to take a sup, but the coughing was unstoppable, and she just shuddered with every fresh out burst, all through the night Jack stayed by her side, refusing to lay down to sleep, he was constantly boiling the water for more drinks, that she could not even stay still long enough to finish , the dawn began breaking through the narrow windows of the tiny room, before she eventually fell asleep.

He laid her back onto her pillow, and running out, grabbing his bike where he had thrown it, pedalled furiously along to where the Dr Mark lived , the constant ringing of the bell, brought the sleepy face of the Dr to the door, she has fallen asleep babbled Jack hysterically, but she is very weak, and I am frightened that she will die, the old man looked at the flushed frightened face of this young man whom he had helped bring into the world with the label of bastard firmly printed on his soul thirty odd years ago, I'll come right away lad he said gruffly get you back to her, for she needs you now, more than she ever did.

When he got back, she was still fast asleep, her breathing was not so laboured as before, heartened by this sudden helpful change, he sat back in the old armchair that he had dragged from the village dump a few weeks ago, quickly repaired the broken base, and placed it in their only downstairs room, besides the small kitchen, leaving his Lilly to proudly cover it with some material, bought cheaply from one of her forever dealing brothers, and fell into a deep slumber.

The old Doctor gazed sadly down upon the sleeping young man, he had brought all of Daisy Stimpsons children into this world, he had with heavy heart witnessed the appalling cruelty directed at this poor fellow, from the very first of his emerging into the cloistered world of merry old England, had hoped that this young man, after being wounded in this horrible war, would have been able to walk free in this so called democratic country, free from the oppressing world of class, carried out with just as much vigour by the working class, as with the Gentry, it wasn't your fault lad, he whispered quietly, but unfortunately, you will carry their faults for the rest of your life!, he checked Lilly's pulse, she had a strong constitution, he felt sure she would pull through, and on his way out carefully closed the poor excuse for a door, for in the year 1920, the average farm worker didn't have much in the way of housing, no wonder he thought the poor devils are always ill, the cold draft through the ill-fitting cottage caught his warmly protected body like a shaft of pure ice, he hurried back to his well built and very warm house, and allowed his housekeeper to bring him a strong coffee and a shot of his country's famous export, whiskey.

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Jack chopped the last sugar beet root, and sent it flying to land on the heap with the others, he had finished his acre, straightened his weary back, fished for his tobacco tin and quickly rolled himself a cigarette, he now had to bike home, where they would then eat whatever his neighbour Mrs Shrimp had cooked for them, he supplied the grocery's, and she cooked each day, except Sunday for a fee, she also spent a while with his wife Lilly, who was still very weak with the cough, but who was allowed to spend the evenings on the old sofa near the fire, she smiled weakly up at him as he came into the only downstairs room they had beside the smaller kitchen, which was really only a draughty cold tin shed fixed on the rear of this so called cottage, that in the summer got almost to hot to work in, have you had a good day dear?, she asked softly, he bent down and placing his arms gently around her now getting frail body, slowly and tenderly kissed that pain ridden face, that had only a few weeks ago been so full of excitement and the pure joy of living, carrying their little boy around where ever she went, now her vivacious young body was slowly losing its grip on life, the terrible wrenching coughs that seemed to shake her whole self, with every deep raucous sound, was steadily taking its toll, and the little baby boy hardly ever left his cot, except when her mother was sober enough to come and take him for a walk, his cot an old drawer fished out from the local dump, and now stuck in the corner, where no one could trip over it.

Give him a kiss and pick him up, Lilly said , you know how he looks forward to you coming home, he bent down, and gazed into the sprawl of torn up old blankets, the smaller version of Lilly's brown eyes gazed up at him solemnly, Mrs Shrimp was to busy to see to him much today, so the poor little devil has been left there nearly all day, Jack picked him up and passed him over to his pain stricken wife, she held the little body tenderly in her arms, we have got to get better for you haven't we, she whispered, we can't have you laying there all day, even though you are a patient little thing, she looked up at her husband, who was then getting their dinners from the oven where Mrs Shrimp had left them, he very rarely cries Jack, it seems as if he knows how we are feeling.

Jack placed her plate on a tray, and taking the tiny baby from her wasting arms, he placed him gently back in his bed in the corner, and then lifting her up a bit straighter and packing a cushion behind her back, proceeded to feed her with a spoon, leaving his own to get cold, you must eat your dinner hot Jack she protested, but he refused to listen, eat this up first he said gently, for I want you up and running about again, for we are heading for a cold winter, and I want us to be walking in the snow once more, up into the woods like we did last winter, yes that was so lovely, she smiled, and the snow made every thing look so peaceful, and one day we will be walking in the snow over our own little farm, but she couldn't eat much, the harsh hacking cough started up as soon as she took a bite down, and he had to put her almost untouched food to one side, he slowly ate his, watching her every painful moment with a deep hurt that was stabbing at his heart.

I love you Lilly Walker he said huskily, and you are going to stop this laying in bed every day, I am going to see Dr Mac this evening, and ask him to have another look at you, Billy Banks said he has got some new medicine in, for he brought some for Billy's mother, and she swears by it, and I won't be putting any money by for the farm this week, as the Rent man and the Insurance man comes tomorrow, and the Doctor and Mrs Shrimp need paying, but not to worry, we have plenty of time, and we will get it one day, I promise you, yes she murmured softly, that must be our goal my dear, we will win through, but another harsh attack of coughing left her drained of energy, Jack held her tight in his arms, would you like a hot drink before I go for the Doctor?, he asked softly, no dear, she answered in between the coughing spasms, each cough cut through her chest like a burning flame, see if you can get something to relieve the pain, for I am finding it harder to breathe.

Once more he rode his bicycle at a pace down through this village, where the older folk mostly pretended that they didn't see him, should he look their way, for he had been born before the wedlock, and had been castigated ever since the day he made his appearance into this harsh cruel world of prejudice and ignorance, he had been hurt and bewildered as a child, where he played alone, even his own brothers and sisters had played with him only in the confines of their own meagre dwelling, he came to the big house belonging to Dr Mac, he liked Dr Mac, he had always treated Jack with courtesy, Dr Mac had been present at his birth, so his mother had told him, he ran up to the big solid looking door, far better than the thin fragile object that was supposed to pass for a door in Jacks rented cottage, pulling on the bell cord, he could hear the pretty chimes echoing through the interior of this lovely building, Dr Mac was just about to visit another patient, and opened the door almost immediately.

Oh" Doctor Mac gasped the young man imploringly, can you come and see to Lilly?, she seems to be coughing even more than she did, and she says her breathing is becoming more painful, the old man pulled the door shut, of course I will lad he said kindly, get you back to her, and I won't be a minute, his face was grave as he walked to his car, Jacks wife had been ill for over three weeks now, and no matter what the Doctor had prescribed, nothing had so far checked this slow unrelenting loss of strength, and the choking painful cough, that had been instrumental in killing several in the villages scattered around, he blamed the poor housing, and the equally poor standards of life endured in these remote Fen land villages, for dampness seemed to encroach in almost every corner of these pathetic shacks some of them were forced to live in.

A few moments later, he was holding the limp hand of Lilly Walker, her breathing had got worse, and he could see that she was losing this fight for life, he felt helpless, he gave her a glass of water to swallow two strong pain killing pills, he knew that this was all he could do for her, keep her warm lad, he whispered, keep her as comfortable as possible, for even with his thick jacket, he still felt the cold dampness of this poor excuse for a cottage seeping into his bones, keep her warm, and try and give her some gruel, as she cannot chew to well, he bent over the old battered drawer that passed as a cot, and how is this little fellow me lad, he chortled, glad for the moment to be able to take his mind of the poor creature trying her hardest to breathe in the cold damp air.

Oh' he's okay grunted Jack, Lilly's mother takes him out most days, well I think you should take him to your mum, and ask her to look after him for a spell, as I don't think Lilly's mother is in a very good position to look after him full time, and he can not stay here any longer, as Lilly is to ill at this moment to see to him, in fact I will take him myself, and explain how things are, knowing that Jacks mother would never come in the same room as Lilly's mother, regarding her as a drunken slut, never out of the Farmers Arms Pub, she had often been heard to declare angrily, the young man nodded, okay Doc he whispered, perhaps its for the best, tell her, I will see her in about an hours time, and he bent over Lilly's huddled form, she seems to be sleeping now, those pills have done her well, can I have some more please?, the Doctor handed him a small bottle, give her two whenever she is in pain, but they will last for quite a while, he patted the young man on the back, now she will sleep for a few hours, get your self down, and have a good sleep, for you must stay strong for her.

The harsh sound of her coughing woke him from a deep slumber, he rushed over to her bedside, all right my love, he called, I have got some pills for you to take, but the force of the hacking cough was shaking her whole body, then just as he got to her with the glass of water, she gave a huge shudder, and suddenly lay still, all was quiet, he held her hand that seemed to have lost all its flexibility, and closed her once pain filled, but now vacant staring eyes, he knew he had lost her, oh" Lilly, I love you, he sobbed, you are the only one I have ever loved, and now I have lost you, he stayed hunched over her still form, the sobs racking his body.

'Twas a cold damp Wednesday, the coffin had been lowered into the hole, it was now a grave, the thin crowd had filtered away, Lilly's family hastily heading for the Farmers Arms, leaving Jack standing alone, he had been gazing as if mesmerised into that gaping hole that the grave digger was standing patiently by waiting to fill in, Jack bent down, picked up a handful of soil, and whispered softly, I love you Lilly Walker, and always will, and I will get that little farm we dreamed of, I promise you, and we will win through, for you will always be here in my heart, for you are the only one who ever loved me, the only one!, and throwing the handful of soil into the grave, he nodded to the waiting grave digger, and slowly walked away, leaving his loving heart in the coffin with his wife Lilly, for the man that left that lonely grave yard, was a far different being to the one that went in.

Gordon Langley

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