The next morning, over the cold porridge breakfast, no mention was made about the use of the belt. Not expecting any, Danny was subdued but not suppressed. Anger and resentment still burned inside him. He couldn’t bear to look at Albin Flint, half expecting to see a self-satisfied look on that sour face.
As he entered the kitchen on his way out to school, Eliza Flint said coolly, “You know part of my husband’s job as overseer is to ensure that those woods are not spoiled in any way.” Was that an excuse? Danny wondered. Had kicking up the leaves been a threat to the trees?
She stopped him as he opened the kitchen door, and called, “And you’d better not be late back from school this afternoon.”
Danny knew it was just her way of showing that he was now under greater threat. He had only ever been late from school twice. The chalk incident was the last time.
The morning in school went reasonably well. He was almost getting used to the sneaky sing-song teasing of Max Hindley, Vic Samms and their cronies. Max gave him an elbow in the back as they changed lessons, but Danny was in no mood to respond. His bitterness with Albin Flint overrode any other feelings.
After school dinner, which was called sausage pie, but to Danny had no taste of sausage and looked nothing like a pie, he had a chance to talk to Norma, who stayed with a very kindly couple which Danny envied.
Her green eyes had widened in horror, before lowering in sympathy when he told her about Albin Flint’s belt. “Danny, that’s awful. Did it hurt so much?”
He showed her the red marks on the back of his legs. Again, she expressed her shock, and she said firmly, “You should tell somebody. Should I tell Mrs Pearson? Maybe they could—”
“What could they do? All the Flints need are more excuses to get at me.”
Just how true that was Danny discovered when he arrived back at the cottage after school. And this time his offence was something he had tried, already ashamed, to put out of his mind.
As soon as he entered the back-door Eliza Flint, tight-lipped, and jerking with agitation was waiting for him in the kitchen. “You should be straight into that cupboard, you dirty little devil. Fancy doing that to the bed. Sarah doesn’t even do that.”
Oh, the bed-wetting. He should have expected that. But there was no broom cupboard penalty, that was a relief. But it was short-lived, for during the drab evening meal Albin Flint had his say, “Filthy beggar. Giving Mrs Flint your mess to clear up.” He took a bite of bread and before clearing his mouth, he went on, “You go straight to bed after this.”
The words were followed by the customary warning scowl, but, as ever, Danny felt that an evening alone in his bedroom, was better than having to sit in their abrasive company. By the time he got to his room, he was wondering how long it would be before they realised that, and find an alternative less comfortable punishment.
In the end, he was grateful for a dreamless, not to mention, dry, sleep. The morning was bright and as he left the cottage on his way to school, with the frosty faces and callous demeanour of the Flints always in the back of his mind, he could never have imagined how that day was to turn out.
In the first part of the morning, Miss Sword praised the neatness of his handwriting, so that seemed like a good start. Then during morning playtime Max Hindley started mocking Norma, and Danny was sure his intention was to lure him into another fight. However, Miss Budgett, the headmistress, for once, arriving before any trouble started prevented any development of that situation.
But it was the afternoon session that brought the surprise. They were in a geography lesson, learning about the location of various mountain ranges. Miss Sword had just advised them that since it was so near playtime, they would deal with the Andes during the next lesson when the door opened, and Miss Budgett came in.
Danny immediately noticed how nervous Miss Sword became. Did the headmistress bully her too, Danny wondered?
After the two ladies had a brief word together, Danny was shaken when Miss Sword waved a hand vaguely in his direction, and with an imperious sniff, Miss Budgett said, “Danny Rogan, you have a visitor. Come out here.” She turned back to Miss Sword, “Such an inconvenient time to visit.” Then back to Danny, who had nervously moved to the front, “Follow me.”
Uncertainly, Danny followed her tall stiff-backed figure down the corridor. Visitor? Who could be visiting him at this time of day, and during the week? Was this some kind of cruel trick?
Miss Budgett stopped at the last classroom on the right. A room that was only used for minor lessons. She pushed open the door and called inside, “Just ten minutes, Mr Rogan.”
Mr Rogan? Danny was already squeezing past her to see, dressed in overalls, the figure of his father standing there, as he replied, “That’s all the time I have.”
Then Danny, the blood pounding in his head, was dashing madly at his father, to feel those strong arms fold around him, and he was burying his face into the roughness of the overalls, drawing in the familiar odour of tobacco, now mixed with tar.
His father gave him a squeeze and laughing held him out to look at him. “It’s so good to see you, Sundown.” Danny had forgotten that his father had called him that ever since he was a baby. He never knew why, but, even if babyish, it was so relieving to hear it now.
“Are you here to take me home, Dad?” That was the only question that mattered to Danny.
His father’s next few words almost brought tears to his eyes, “I was so glad when I learned our job was bringing us out here. But I have so little time.” And he pointed out of the window, beyond the low school wall and across the stubbled cornfield, which, for some reason, the farmer had left unploughed since the last harvest. On the far side Danny could see an open-backed truck with some men sitting in the rear.
“They’re all set to go but are waiting for me. You see the new pole we’ve put up? New electric lines, all over.”
The deep brown eyes regarded Danny calmly, “You’re not going to cry, are you? You’ve been so brave so far. I’ve really come to tell you the good news. Your mother is out of the hospital. All is well.”
That news helped Danny suppress the tears, as his father went on, “She’s longing to see you, but has her hands full at the moment. You just have to stay brave, Sundown. We’re so proud of you. But coming home would be so dangerous. A house in Benson Road took a direct hit just three nights ago.”
Benson Road was not far from their street, but Danny didn’t care. A voice inside him was screaming. ‘Tell him. Tell him about the Flints. About the punishments. Everything.’
But his father was going on, “I was so proud when I came out of the MN and your mother told me how brave you were being. It really helps us to get through this damned war, knowing that you are safe.”
‘But I’m not safe,’ screamed again in his head. His father and mother were wanting him to be brave, and if that helped them, maybe that was the price he had to pay. Didn’t people call it ‘The War Effort.’? Did this have to be his war effort? His hands were clutching the broad strong fingers of his father.
His father glanced uncomfortably out of the window towards where the truck stood. “Too short a time, I know. But I have to go now. Come on, Sundown. Give me one big hug to take back to your mother to show how tough you’re being.”
The hug he gave was a desperate one, it was a hug that tried to convey the words his lips would not reveal. In the end, his father had to pry himself free. “We’ll come to see you again, and soon. Promise.”
His final words cut into him, “Stay as brave as you have been, Sundown.”
And his father went out of the room, and away. Away home. His home, the only place he wanted to be. Anxiously Danny looked out of the window, seeing the truck across the field. As he looked, his father appeared and clambered nimbly over the low wall.
What had stopped him from, speaking out? Wasn’t he eager to let his father know? So why hadn‘t he? He was trapped in his parents’ expectations for him to be brave, wasn’t that it?
Without a backward glance, his father was now halfway over the stubbled field. Going home. Home! Wasn’t that what he longed for? Wasn’t it what he had dreamed of? This was all wrong. He couldn’t, just couldn’t let his father go without letting him know everything.
Just being brave was too much. He had to tell him! Had to!
Next second he was rushing out into the corridor. Playtime was over and most of the kids were back in class. Danny knew now that he had to catch his father and tell him about Albin Flint. And if he said he still had to be brave? No, he just couldn’t think like that.
Madly he dashed towards the door that lead to the yard. If he yelled his father would hear him.
Suddenly, like some deliberate blockade, Max Hindley appeared in front of him. Seeing Danny, he grinned with some sort of warped satisfaction, as he raised his arms wide to enlarge the obstacle.
Anger immediately overrode the desperation Danny was feeling.
“What’s the hurry, Rogan?” Max said gloatingly.
Not slowing at all, Danny yelled, “Get out of my way.”
Max’s mouth opened in what was intended to be a teasing guffaw, but suddenly –whoosh—it became the outlet for the air wildly expelled as the top of Danny’s head struck him just below his ribcage. Max staggered against a cupboard before doubling up, desperately trying to gasp air into his emptied lungs.
Danny’s charge had been totally unpremeditated. He simply wanted nothing to slow his pursuit of his father. Briefly, he glimpsed Max’s stooped figure but had no time to revel in his aggressor’s indisposition. Certainly, he had no thought of the consequences of his action.
Danny Rogan had only one goal.
Out onto the yard, he raced to the low wall and clambered up on it. Across the field, his father was striding up the bank towards the truck.
Danny yelled, but there was some wind and there were trees that swayed and probably overlay the sound of his voice. Desperately he jumped down and began running wildly over the crackling stubble. Halfway across, he was horrified to hear the dull roar of the truck being started up, and he saw that his father was opening the door to the cab.
That was the moment that Danny tripped and fell so that sharp corn stubble stabbed into his knees. Ignoring the pain, he jumped to his feet and to his utter despair he saw the truck begin to move slowly away.
“Nooo!” He screamed as he reached the embankment up to the lane.
Then, through eyes almost blinded with tears, he saw one of the men sitting in the rear of the truck pointing at him and another slammed a hand on the roof of the cab. Stumbling up the shallow slope, Danny heard men shouting and noticed that there was no engine noise.
By the time he reached the level, he saw his father hurrying towards him alongside a tall, burly man. His father wasn’t short, but this man dwarfed him. He was massive. Unable to control it, Danny burst into tears. They were mainly tears of relief, but his knees hurt and his father would see that he wasn’t so brave.
“Sundown, what’s happened?” His large loving hands reached out to him.
“I can’t be brave, Dad.” Danny sobbed.
The big man came closer, “Look at the poor wee fella’s knees.”
Danny glanced down and saw several bloodied specks, as his father said, “Can we get the medic stuff, Mack?” The big man shouted at somebody for the first aid kit. Danny had been hugged close to his father, but now the big fellow called Mack, said in a Scottish accent, “What’s given him the red mark on the back of his leg, Frank?”
Danny’s father looked up at the big man and then turned Danny round to look. “What the hell did that, Danny?”
Then it all came pouring out, mixed with his sobs and tears. The belt, the Flints, the cupboard, all of the things that had made recent months so miserable and hard to take.
While he talked the first aid box arrived and Mack knelt to, so gently, smooth over the knee cuts. There was very little blood and he ended up applying some kind of cream. All the time Danny spoke of Albin Flint’s callousness, Mack uttered a swear word about him. It helped put a weak smile back on Danny’s face.
“But why didn’t you tell us, Danny?” Danny noticed how he’d stopped using the ‘Sundown’ name he’d given him since a baby. Did that mean he was growing up?
All he could say to his father was, “Because I thought you and Mam wanted me to be brave.”
How good it was to have his father’s despairing hug of regret, and to hear him say, “I’m so sorry, Danny. But there’ll be no more of this.”
“You’ll be wanting to collect his stuff,” Mack said.
“Can we do that?”
The big Scotsman nodded his head, “Aye, and I wouldn’t mind having a word with a fellow who takes a belt to a youngster.” He walked away to tell the other men and there were nods of agreement.
“Good blokes,” His father said as he led Danny to the truck. “They should be on their way home by now.”
Danny’s was now dry-eyed and worried as he said, “Do we have to go back there?”
“All of your clothes are there, Danny.” He squeezed Danny’s shoulder, “Anyway, you’re taking your own army with you.” And he laughed
They travelled in the cab with Danny seated comfortingly on his father’s knee. Down the lane to the river road, they turned right, instead of the left which, Danny knew, would take them to the road bridge leading to home.
Danny pointed out the mill and the farm with all the troubles that came his way because of visits there. And in no time, they were approaching the cottage and Danny told his father, who informed the driver, advising him to park where the high hedge shielded them from the cottage.
Feeling strangely worried about how it would go, despite his father being with him, Danny followed his father out of the cab. Mack leap-frogged down from the back of the truck, where some of the other four men were standing up to peer at the cottage over the hedge.
“Aye, standing up high you can see the whole place,” Mack said, “looks like it should be a bonny place for a kid. Big garden, farmer’s field over there and the woods at the back.” He nodded his head, “So how would you want to handle this, Frank?”
Danny’s father looked down at him and clearly saw the worry on his face. He told Mack, “As quickly and efficiently as possible.”
“Lead the way, my friend. I’ll be right behind you.”
Danny was clutching his father’s hand but held back, strangely reluctant to go back into that place, meet those awful people, even though he tried to tell himself that having his father there meant he was safe from harm.
Frank Rogan, feeling the pull on his hand looked back, “Come on, Danny. I need you to prove that I am your father. Remember they’ve never seen me before.”
Hesitantly, Danny followed his father and sensed Mack walking just behind them. One of the men in the back of the truck called, “Let us know if you need reinforcements.”
Danny heard Mack chuckle, “Unlikely, mate.”
At the gate from behind his father, Danny saw Albin Flint’s van. So he was at home.
That was proved the moment his father clicked open the gate. Albin Flint came storming out from the back-door growling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing spying over the hedge?”
Then, he saw Danny peering out from behind his father, and said, “Oh, you’ve brought that brat back, have you? He been in trouble?” For the first time, Albin Flint’s eyes moved beyond them to where Mack had stepped through the gate.
For Danny, there was some pleasure in seeing an expression on that face that he hadn’t seen before. It started with a look of uncertainty which was followed by a look of real worry, as he stated in a weakening voice, “You’re trespassing. This is private property.”
Danny’s father stepped up close to Albin Flint and recalling how big and threatening this man had always looked when in the cottage, Danny saw that, in fact, he was no taller than his father, maybe bulkier but not by much.
Standing there, face to face, Danny’s father said coldly, “My name is Frank Rogan, and this-” He put a hand on Danny’s head,” –is my son, Danny, who, he tells me, you’ve been less than pleasant with. For the moment, we’re only going to collect his private property.”
With that, deliberately keeping Danny on the side away from Albin Flint, his father headed for the backdoor. Behind them, Danny heard Albin Flint’s rather weak, “You can’t—”
It was followed by Mack’s, “Oh, yes, he can.” There was a scuffling sound, but immediately facing them was Eliza Flint standing in the doorway, a decidedly nervous look on her face. Anger, Danny had seen on that face many times, annoyance also, and coldness most of the time, so there was exceptional pleasure in seeing nervousness.
Frank Rogan pushed Danny past Eliza Flint saying gently, “Just collect your things together.”
As he moved towards the corridor, Danny heard his father’s voice, “You must be Mrs Flint. Rather an unpleasant lady, I believe.”
“You can’t come in here in those filthy boots,” her voice lacked the customary hardness.
Danny looked back, as his father asked, “Would that annoy you?”
“Yes, it would.”
“Good,” his father said firmly, and shouldered his way past Eliza Flint, and waved at Danny to continue ahead of him.
It took only a few minutes for his father to lift down the case Danny had arrived with, while Danny took his clothes from wardrobe and drawers and piled them on the bed. A further three minutes of hasty packing and an elated Danny was following his father out of that bedroom for the last time.
As they reached the corridor, Sarah, oblivious to all the activity, came out of the living room. “Going home, Danny?” she piped. And Danny couldn’t resist stopping to give her a final hug. Her face looked so unhappy.
“Poor kid.” Danny heard his father murmur. And Danny could not have agreed more.
Danny was surprised not to see Eliza Flint in the kitchen, but he soon found out why when they were outside. She was crouched over the hunched figure of Albin Flint, who was grunting and gasping as he tried to draw in air. Just as Max Hindley had been less than an hour earlier.
Between the Flint’s and the gate, Mack stood, with arms folded, a wide grin on his broad face. “Hope I haven’t robbed you of the pleasure, Frank.”
Seeing Albin Flint so distressed and obviously hurting just filled Danny with a hitherto unknown joy. As they moved past the couple his father leaned over and muttered something that Danny could not catch but was certain it wasn’t ‘Thank you.’
Then magically, Danny Rogan was on his way home. He sat on his father’s knee, loving the freedom of looking out on changing scenery. Briefly, his father tried to prepare him for whatever the war might bring, but Danny had experienced an air-raid with all the bangs before he’d been taken away.
Approaching the city there were more and more signs of what the war meant. Some bombed houses, especially nearer the river. Smokescreen bins which, Danny remembered, gave off a strong oily odour. Barrage balloons hung in the sky along the river.
And always the phrase, “Going home,” sang through his head.
At last, the truck stopped at the end of his very own cul-de-sac and he could view the real green of the privet hedges bounding the gardens. His excited breath was catching in his throat as they approached number eight, that beautiful green door.
His father had told him that his mother had only been home from the hospital for two days and was still a little weak. “Of course, she doesn’t know you’re coming, but I have to see her face when she sees you.” He paused as he inserted a key in the door, “And your face when you see the surprise she has for you.”
As the door opened, Danny had to rush inside, and there was that lovely familiar sight of his mother, in her floral pinafore, who he had missed so much. She almost staggered as with shock and joy etched on her face, she came towards him, glancing questioningly at her husband.
“Oh, Danny. How?” Then, Danny was clasped against her wonderfully comforting softness, and unashamedly, not caring about bravery or how childish it might be, all his frustrations of recent months burst out in a flood of tears and sobbing. Absorbing the scented aroma of cooking about her, and something else, something his nose could not define, an unexpected talcum smell. He simply clung to her as though she might try to escape
“All will be revealed,” he heard his father say.
Gradually, his mother held him at arm’s length and looked into his eyes as his sobbing subsided. She had a strange smile on her face as he wondered how the diminished echo of his sobbing seemed to linger.
Without a further word, his mother broke away and hurried to the main bedroom. Within
seconds she was back, and, in her arms, she carried a white bundle.
“I told you she had her hands full,” his father chuckled from behind him. “Go on, see why.”
As his mother, smiling tearfully, came towards him she said, “Your baby sister.”
Shaken Danny peered over his mother’s arm to look at a tiny head, topped with black hair, with wide blue eyes that stared up at him. A baby. As everything began to fall into place all he could say in his astonished, emotive state was, “She has a squashed nose.”
“She’s only three days old,” his mother said, with a kindly smile. “And she was reluctant to arrive, that’s why I had to be in hospital.”
“Anyway, your nose was flatter than that,” his father said, and they laughed together. A family once more.
One more surprise was in store when he returned to school on the following Monday. Walker Primary School shared the playground with the senior school. That first playtime, Danny felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to find Frankie Keyes grinning at him. And Frankie told him of his incredible luck at being given a lift by a rich lady who was on her way to the city, “I was home inside three hours,” he told Danny.
For Danny Rogan, the war wasn’t over. There were nights of sirens blaring out warnings of impending air-raids, and dashes down the garden to the Anderson shelter. But none of the roars and bangs of German raids was ever as bad for him than those early months with the Flints