Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

NEW BROOM

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)


Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 24 June 1939

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-09-22

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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CHAPTER 1. — TROUBLE BREWING

WITH a tiny landing net that looked like a child's toy big John Hannaford, the Shandon water-bailiff, was fishing dead alevins out of a concreted tank.

An alevin is a very young trout newly hatched from the egg and does not look in the least like its speckled parents. A certain number are bound to die, however carefully they are looked after, and the little dead bodies must be removed so as not to foul the water.

On a bench close by the tank Jack Hannaford, the water-bailiff's 14-year-old son, was chopping up cooked bullock's liver to feed some of the larger fish in another tank. Jack had lost his mother when he was only three and his father had brought him up. The two were great pals, more like brothers than father and son.

Both were so busy that they did not notice a man come into the hatchery from the lower end. The new arrival was about 25, as tall as John Hannaford but not so broad. He had dark hair and blue eyes, and would have been good-looking but for tight lips and a cocksure expression which spoiled his face.

"Are you Hannaford?" he asked. The question was so sharp and sudden that it would have startled most people, but John Hannaford was not built that way.

"Aye," he said pleasantly, "I'm Hannaford. I reckon you are Mr Dunster."

"That's my name," said the newcomer curtly. He looked at the net in the bailiff's hand. "What are you doing—shrimping?"

"I'm taking out the dead alevins," Hannaford explained.

"And what are alevins?"

Hannaford told him.

Dunster's lip curled. "Not much of a job for a grown man," he remarked.

"You're not a fisherman, sir," replied Hannaford quietly.

"Certainly not," snapped Dunster. "I have something better to do. How much money do you make out of these trout?"

"They are bred for re-stocking the river," Hannaford told him. "We have to do it so that we may keep up a good head of fish. The Reed Brook is now one of the best trout streams on the moor."

"I've been looking at the brook. It seems to me it might be used for something better than trout."

Hannaford's grey eyes widened. "There's nothing else would do here, sir. It isn't large enough for salmon."

Dunster gave a laugh that sounded like a bark.

"Salmon!" he sneered. "I'm talking of power—electric power. If I put in a dam under Crow Tor we could get a head of water that would give cheap power for the whole estate."

John Hannaford stared at the other as if he could not believe his senses.

"Dam the Reed Brook?" he said at last. "You couldn't, Mr Dunster. It would surely ruin the whole place."

An angry red showed in Dunster's cheeks.

"Ruin the place!" he repeated. "That's just what I'm here to stop. It will go to ruin if these slack ways continue. I don't propose to pay wages to grown men for picking minnows out of a tank of water. If you intend to keep your place here, Hannaford, I shall expect you to do some real work." He swung round and marched out of the hatchery, and John Hannaford and Jack watched him stride away towards the road.

"A proper new broom," said John Hannaford, with a shake of his head.

"New broom! I'd call him an ignorant, interfering jackass," cried Jack. "What can Sir Myles be thinking of to send a chap like that to be bailiff of Shandon?"

"He'll have his reasons, Jack," replied his father quietly.

"But if he puts in this dam, Dad, it finishes the fishing," he urged. "And you'd have nothing left to do. How will you like to be turned off, forced to give up the cottage."

"I don't reckon it will be as bad as that," his father answered. "Now let's finish the job, then we'll go home to tea."

Jack never said a word on the way home. Jack's devotion to his father was intense, and the thought that this newcomer had the power to throw him out of the job which he had held for nearly twenty years filled the boy with anger.

Although there was no woman to look after it, the cottage was beautifully clean and tidy. A pleasant smell of burning peat came from the deep fireplace and it only needed a little work with the bellows to make a red glow under the kettle. Father and son each did their share of the work of preparing the meal, and sat down to bread with clotted cream and whortleberry jam, saffron buns, and a big brown pot of tea.

It was a fine spring evening, the birds were still singing in the dusk, and the tinkle of the little brook which ran through the garden came pleasantly through the open window. Jack loved every bit of it.

They finished tea, and Jack was washing the cups and plates at the kitchen sink when the front door burst open and a man came striding in—a long, lean, wiry fellow with dark skin and deep wrinkles on his suntanned face. He was Mark Metters, handyman on the estate. There was nothing that he could not do, from trimming a hedge to handling ferrets; but the sort who likes to make his own hours and work. He stood and glared at John Hannaford.

"You seed un?" he demanded hoarsely.

"You're speaking of Mr Dunster, I reckon, Mark," said the bailiff.

"I be speaking of that interfering dog as says he be the new agent," replied Metters. "Do 'ee know what her said to me? Called me a loafer, her did. And me waiting for my ferret to come out of the bury!"

Metters's eyes were blazing with fury. The man had gipsy blood in him, and when roused was dangerous. Hannaford tried to quiet him.

"He's green, Mark," he said. "He'll learn better in a week or so."

"Her'd better," growled Mark. "Next time her talks that way I be going to knock his head off." Without another word he marched out. John Hannaford took up his hat. "Jack," he said, "I'm going to follow Mark. If he goes to the Saracen's Head and gets drinking there'll be trouble."


CHAPTER 2. — FOG OVER THE MOOR

IT was late when John Hannaford got back, and he was limping. "Don't worry. Jack," he said. "It's only a wrenched muscle."

"You've had a row with Mark, Dad," Jack said accusingly.

"I stopped him from getting drunk, anyhow," replied his father with a smile. He sat down and took off his boot, and Jack bandaged the swollen ankle.

Next morning John Hannaford was very lame indeed and his son made him sit with his leg up on a stool.

Just after breakfast Mr Dunster arrived.

"I want you to come up the river with me, Hannaford," he said. "I wish to see the springs and whether there's water for the power plant." He broke off. "What's the matter? Did you fall into the tank?"

Jack was furious. He wanted to cry out that his father had been hurt in trying to help this interfering ass of an agent, but a sharp glance from his father checked him.

"I had a slight accident and sprained my ankle," said John. "I shall be all right by tomorrow. In any case you could not go today. There'll be fog by afternoon."

"Fog!" sneered the other. "I'm not made of sugar. If you can't walk I shall go alone."

"There are no roads or paths on the High Moor," John Hannaford explained patiently. "It is easy to get lost and stumble into a bog."

"I'm not such a fool as that," Dunster answered impatiently. "I'm going today."

"At any rate let me point you the way on the map," said the water-bailiff.

"I might as well look at that," said Dunster ungraciously.

The map hung on the wall. John Hannaford limped over to it and pointed out the course of the Reed Brook.

"That's a tributary," he said; "don't go along that or you'll get into the mire. Here's your way, and remember that the bank of the stream is the safest place. The bogs lie back from the river."

Dunster was interested in the map, and the two talked over it for some minutes. Then Dunster got ready to go. Jack was waiting with an oilskin coat.

"Better take this, sir," he suggested. "These moor fogs are very wet. You'll be glad of it before you get back."

"All right," said the other curtly. He took the coat, nodded, and strode off.

Jack went off to the hatchery and was busy there till dinner-time. When he walked back he saw that mist was settling over the top of Crow Tor. It would be thick by sunset. He chuckled.

"Mr Know-it-all will have a sweet time," he said to himself. Jack's father, too, had seen the mist and was troubled.

"I wish I'd sent you up with him, Jack," he said. "The High Moor is no place for a stranger. Once he gets lost he'll never find the brook, and even if he doesn't fall into a bog he'd hardly live through a night. The cold is bitter on the top."

"He's got your oily," Jack remarked; "but if you're worried I'll go up after him."

"I wish you would," said John Hannaford; "but don't let him see you unless he is lost. He'd only think we were interfering."

Jack grinned. "All right. I'll be careful of his feelings."

He went into his own room, put on his macintosh and stowed a few odds and ends in his pockets, then started off. When he reached the foot of Crow Tor the mist was beginning to fill the valley. Grey wraiths of clammy vapour drifted in his face, and as he went on the fog grew steadily thicker.

"H'm, worse than I reckoned," he said to himself. "I reckon Mr Smarty isn't feeling too happy. Wonder if he's had sense enough to turn back."

Jack himself was not afraid of the fog. He knew he was safe so long as he stuck to the stream. He came up under the great flank of Devil's Tor, where the river ran narrow and deep between high banks of black peat. Here he found Dunster's tracks going upstream, but no sign of their returning. He stopped and listened, but the only sound that broke the eerie stillness was the gurgle of the brook in its deep bed.

Jack pushed on. He was now on the great morass 1800 feet up, the centre of the moor, where the rivers rise. This is all bog, and in places the liquid black mire is deep enough to swallow a horse. Even close to the brook Jack sometimes went in nearly up to his knees. Dusk was falling and there was no sign of Dunster. Jack stopped again and shouted, but his voice was muffled by the fog. He hunted for footprints, but could find none. He began to grow worried. If Dunster had left the brook and got into a mire he might be dead by this time. He pulled a pistol from his pocket. It was only a toy, firing paper caps, but when he pulled the trigger it made a loud crack. He fired three times and waited.

Nothing happened. Jack went on slowly. His feet were very wet and cold. At last he stopped again and let off three more caps. Again he waited, and then out of the murky distance he heard a faint crackling sound.

"So he's found them at last," he said, and at once began to fire more caps.

Again the crackle, and presently a faint shout. Jack answered, and presently there was a squelching sound and a tall figure came wading through the mire. Jack took a small electric torch from his pocket and switched it on.

"Who's that?" came a hoarse voice.

"Jack Hannaford. Is that you, Mr Dunster?"

"It was," came the grim answer, and the new agent came staggering into the little ring of light.

Mr Dunster was not to be recognised as the arrogant, well-dressed figure who had started off so confidently a few hours earlier. He resembled a pillar of mud. Even his face was covered with it, and black slime dripped from his arms and coat.

"Good thing you found the squibs, sir," Jack said.

"A good thing that all my matches weren't wet," replied the agent.

"They wouldn't be that, sir. I put them in a waterproof tin."

Mr Dunster grunted. "I take it the squibs were your idea—and the sandwiches?"

"Why, yes, sir. You see, I've lived on the moor all my life."

Mr Dunster gave vent to another grunt. "The only thing you forgot was a thermos."

Jack drew one out of his pocket.

"Here it is, sir. Hot tea. Take a drop, then we'll start back."

The agent pulled out the cork and took a long draught. He breathed a sigh of relief. "That's about saved my life," he said. "I was chilled to the bone."

Ten strokes sounded from the grandfather clock, and for the fourth or fifth time John Hannaford limped to the door and looked out anxiously into the swirling fog. Suddenly he heard a laugh.

"Hold up, sir! You mustn't go tumbling down just when we're at home."

"I'm just about all in," was the answer.

Then the two came into sight. Jack had Mr Dunster by the arm and was almost dragging him up the garden path. John Hannaford gasped when he saw the mud-coated figure of the agent.

"My word, sir, I'm sorry about this," he said.

Mr Dunster dropped into a chair by the fire.

"You've no reason to be sorry, Hannaford," he answered, and now a real smile made his hard face quite attractive. "I've had such a lesson as I never had in all my life, and it's knocked a lot of the nonsense out of me. After this I'm going to attend to what the moor folk say."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.