Ralph Runciman spotted the New Age Travellers first, as he walked his dog. He rang the other members of the Parish Council. ‘We must stop this invasion now’ he barked.
The Parish Councillors and the village policeman, followed Ralph to the edge of the spinney. They could see a thin spiral of white smoke rising above a clump of trees. ‘Just look at that’ said Ralph angrily, ‘they have the nerve to light a fire. I expect its our wood they are burning too.’ My Cousin Alice, who wished she had put her Wellingtons on, looked around. ‘I imagined the spinney was full of them’ she murmured to Miss Trafford. ‘I hope this isn’t a wild goose chase.’
They walked across to the fire, where one very old single decker bus was parked. It had once been painted in all sorts of colours, but was now very rusty and dilapidated. The bonnet was propped open. ‘Hello,’ yelled Ralph. ‘ Come out, whoever you are’.
A tall dark man emerged, wearing jeans and a multicoloured jumper, with his black hair tied in a ponytail. He smiled, and his teeth were brilliantly white against his swarthy complexion. ‘Good morning’ he said. ‘I was going to come into the village to introduce myself, but you have beaten me to it. My name is Daniel Bosworth, and I’m very pleased to meet you.’
‘My name’ said Ralph pompously ‘is Ralph Runciman and I am Chairman of Harrington Parish Council. These are my fellow Councillors, and this is our village policeman Constable Gordon. We are not at all pleased to meet you, and insist that you pack up and leave the village immediately.’
‘Impossible I’m afraid’ said Daniel. ‘The old bus has packed up again and it looks terminal this time, so we couldn’t move if we wanted to. Luckily I was able to coast downhill and swing into the entrance to this field. Also, I have the family to consider. My wife is expecting – Megan, where are you ? We have visitors.’ A very pregnant young woman came from behind the bus. She was strikingly beautiful, her red hair partly restrained by an emerald green scarf . ‘Good morning’ she said, in a very well spoken voice. Let me introduce the family – come on girls, don’t be shy.’Three children slowly emerged from behind the bus, all the image of their mother, with masses of auburn curls, wide blue eyes and translucent skin. They stood in a line, looking at the assembled Councillors. ‘This is Peace, she is eight’ said Megan, ‘this is Charity who is seven, and this is Ruby who is five.. Say hello, girls.’ ‘Hello’ they all murmured in unison, then they sat down on the grass.
‘Look here, Bosworth,’ blustered Ralph ‘we don’t want to hear your excuses, just pack up and clear out now. We don’t want any more of your mates finding where you are and following you here.’
‘There are no mates, Mr Runciman,’ said Daniel patiently, ‘we travel alone and we now have no transport. This is our home as well as our wheels so we live where we park. I was going to come into the village to see if I could find any work, I’m a good gardener and can turn my hand to most odd jobs, although I’m really a writer. If I can earn enough perhaps we will be able to buy another vehicle and then move on but for now we have no choice but to stay.’
Constable Gordon rubbed his chin. His wife was expecting in a couple of months, and he thought of their cosy little home and the nursery all ready and waiting. Some start this little one would have. ‘Mr Runciman’ he said ‘you can’t just throw them off the land, you’ll have to get a court order, which will probably take a few weeks. Perhaps you should let him do what he says and look for work.’ My Cousin Alice joined in ‘ I agree, and I could do with a gardener, you know that, you’re always saying my garden is the reason we never win the ‘Best Kept Village’ competition. ‘Young man’ she called across to Daniel, ‘you can start on my garden tomorrow. I live at Lilac Villa, at the top of Squirrels Lane. Nine o’clock sharp now, and don’t you let me down.’
Ralph was unhappy but realised he had little choice but to capitulate. ‘Don’t you think this is the end of it, Bosworth’ he snapped as they turned to leave ‘ we shall be taking steps’.
The next morning, Daniel was at Lilac Villa promptly, and he worked hard all day, and for the next four weeks. The garden looked beautiful. Then one morning, he arrived a little late, and apologised, saying that Megan had had her baby during the night – a boy, that they had named Adam, as he was their first born son. My Cousin Alice was delighted, and sent him back home again for a weeks ‘Paternity Leave’. She spent the next few hours knocking on all the doors in the village, telling them the news, and asking if they had anything at all they would be willing to donate to the family. Her last call was at the Runcimans. She explained what she had done, and she watched Ralph’s face darken. He had a large bulbous nose, and lurking in the shadows beneath it was a motheaten toothbrush moustache, which began to quiver with rage.
‘Now Ralph,’ she said quietly but firmly ‘ I know you are cross, because as Chairman of the Parish Council you have to be seen to be doing what is right for the village. In my opinion, this family is right for the village, Daniel is a really hard worker, and he loves his family. Everyone has been pleased to donate toys, clothes, and books for them, but from you I would like more. I think you would show everyone what a caring person you are if you were to offer them the old Lodge to live in.You know your daughter is well settled in Australia now, and won’t be back to live there again. It will need a good sweep out, but its sound and has running water and electricity laid on. If you offer it for six months and get a proper lease signed, that will give Daniel time to earn some money and show the village what he is made of. If it doesn’t work out, they will move on and what will you have lost – a few poundsworth of electricity that you can well afford. Your reputation as a benevolent man will certainly not suffer. Think about it, and come with me tomorrow to see the new baby and take all these goodies for them.’
The next day, Ralph and My Cousin Alice drove round to the spinney in Ralph’s car, as they had too many parcels to carry. The children loved the toys, and although they didn’t like the thought of accepting charity, Daniel and Megan were very grateful for everything else. While My Cousin Alice cuddled the red haired baby, Ralph told them they could live in the Lodge for six months rent free while they got on their feet. They were speechless at first, then Megan told them that she had that very morning told Daniel that their lives as travellers must end, for the sake of the children’s futures, and Harrington was the first place she had been that she felt she could settle in. She had educated the girls herself up to now, but they needed to be in school, and she would then have time to do more sewing, for which she might also earn some money.
And that is what happened. They moved into the Lodge, which was quickly furnished with donations from friendly neighbours. Daniel was kept busy gardening and doing odd jobs, as his reputation for hard work and reliability grew. The girls joined the village school, where they were very popular and academically equal to everyone else, and Megan was in demand for her sewing, everything from curtains to a beautifully smocked christening robe.
Six months later, Daniel and Ralph formalised the situation, agreeing a modest rent for Daniel to pay. As they shook hands,, Daniel gave Ralph a copy of the current edition of ‘English Life’ magazine, and told him to look at page 11. Ralph opened it, to read the title ‘The Biggest – Hearted Village in England’ by Daniel Bosworth. It was the story of their arrival in Harrington, their acceptance by the villagers, and their present lives.
Ralph had only once before had such a happy smile on his face. That had been a month before, on the day Harrington had won the ‘Best Kept Village’ cup.
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