From the Sussex County Magazine 1936
In Broad Daylight: A Queer Story
(Understand that "A Queer Story" in 1936 meant "A weird story")
By Olga Watkins
There was no doubt about it: Johnnie Pound was lazy. He was a well grown lad of sixteen. He was fatherless, and I knew his mother was not all she might be. Probably the boy was not being fed properly.
One morning I tried him with cocoa and bread and cheese. He took the cocoa at a gulp, wolfed the bread and cheese, and then catching an amused twinkle in Andrew’s eye, explained haltingly that he had come away to work without breakfast that morning.
"Often do that?" I enquired casually.
"Sometimes," he admitted, and started digging furiously.
The next day in the village I caught sight of an enormous blue willow pattern cup and saucer labelled "Father’s Cup" in the window of the little general shop. I bought it for Johnnie’s elevenses which, in view of his breakfastless state, Bridget was to give him at nine every morning. It took several gulps to drink the contents of that cup, and then he soaked the crusty bit of his bread in the mess of sugar at the bottom to finish it all off. He worked a little better after that. But he was often late, and always lazy. Andrew, gardener for over twenty years to this same Sussex house and garden, to which we had recently retired, complained about him regularly twice a week. I should have to stand him off. But . . .his mother had just an infinitesimal pension, I couldn’t give him the final push.
Besides, Johnnie was a bit of a sportsman. He played soccer for the village team, and someone in the village was teaching him to box. He needed good food and plenty of it; and hardly less urgently his body and his mind needed discipline.
What about the Navy? A man’s life; plenty of boxing; he was just the build for an A.B.; he would see the world. All this was duly pointed out to him. What about it?
Johnnie admitted it was rather an idea; he supposed that a regular toff coached boxing in the navy. And he thought the kit would make the girls sit up when he came home on leave; especially Marjorie Baker, who went about with her nose in the air and her eyes glued on the man who drove the milk cart. He’d like Marjorie to know there were other folk in the world beside Bert and his milk cart; but, well … . On the whole he thought – here he kicked the roller hard – he would stay along o’mother for the present.
"It’s such a pity to throw away a splendid chance of seeing the world and being with men of your own age," I encouraged him. "There is Admiral Brown who would help you to get in. Think it over."
"All right," said Johnnie. "I will."
The following Monday morning he did not turn up to work.
"Proper scared you’re going to put him into the Navy," said Andrew with a grin.
"You going to stand him off, ma’am?"
"When I can get him into something that will make a man of him."
"He don’t earn tuppence an hour," grumbled Andrew.
Andrew is a gardener of the old school, and to him "things aren’t what they were": such things for instance as politics, the local pub, and the quality of tools and seeds and garden boys. I consoled him as best I could.
"He’s never had a father to call him to order, or give him a licking, but I’ll get him into something as soon as I can, Andrew."
It was days later. Johnnie was still absent from his work – he was down with flu – and I was watering some young plants near the garden gate, when a man came down the lane. I first noticed him on the other side of our holly bush. He wore a labourer’s heavy boots and working clothes. He stopped when he saw me, and spoke.
"Want a job of work done today, ma’am?"
"No thank you."
"I’ve only had one day’s work this week, and this be Friday."
"I’m sorry. Where have you been working before?"
"A good many years for Mr Powis, him that was the cousin to Lord Churton, and before that for nigh in fifteen years for Sir Peter Cassell."
"Sir Peter Cassell? Where?"
"At Lower Linkstone Park."
I turned and looked at him intently. "I was born in that house."
"Were you? Do you remember the water chugging in the scullery?"
I laughed. "Of course I do. That was the first ram in Kent, long before water was laid on everywhere. And when my grandfather said he was going to bring water up the hill, I believe the farmers collected to tell him it wasn’t possible without the intervention of the evil one . . . .How long were you there?"
"When Mr Powis died, I came on to old Mr Chipping here, who turned an old place with a wonderful old garden into something more modern. It wasn’t to my mind exactly – but it was work. Then his daughter had learnt gardening at one of them colleges – and now I’m out . . . "
He shook his head. "I’m a gardener; head gardener."
"Look here, the Dickson’s down the lane have large orchards; they may want pruning help or something. Do you know this lane?"
"Yes." He looked at me – through me. Then: "You couldn’t give me a day? You’re – not standing a boy off?"
Evidently it was Johnnie’s job he was after.
"Later, but not yet. I couldn’t now, for he’s down with flu, and then not till I have found the right place for him. And that takes time. I want to get him into the Navy. It would be the making of him.
Is it true that he is a young slacker?" he asked me suddenly.
The question took me aback. "Andrew says that boys aren’t what they were," I answered cautiously.
"Boys was allus boys, no better nor no wuss," he said. "But you’re right. The Navy would be the making of a likely lad. He’d be all tight there. And he won’t drown neither, for if he’d bin meant to, he’d a drowned afore."
I looked at him in surprise. "What do you know of our Johnnie?"
The man sighed. "Almost nothing. Just what they say. So you won’t be standing him off and giving another fellow the job yet awhile?"
I shook my head; yet as the need seemed great that could send a head gardener after a boy’s job, I scribbled the name of a possible employer on the back of an envelope, and handed it to him. "Try this one too. And if nothing comes of either, come back here. What is your name?"
"Pound. John Pound."
"John," I echoed. "John Pound?" it was the boy’s name too!"
He nodded and was gone quite suddenly. Puzzled, I strolled back to Andrew, who was mowing the lawn.
"Know anyone wanting a gardener?" I asked.
Andrew scratched his head. "Dunno that I do. Most of the houses as you could call houses have their regulars, and Jenkins does the jobbin’ for the others. But there bain’t a local man unemployed.
"I was talking to one just now. Name of Pound."
"That’s queer. Never heard of him. There’s the smithy, and the man that drives the carrier’s cart to Rye; and that boy of your’n. that’s all the Pounds there be round here.
At lunch I talked it over with Himself.
"It’s a queer coincidence," he agreed, "but if I were you I would make a few enquiries before sending round to look for work with our neighbours. Ask Admiral Brown. He’ll know him if he’s a local man.
That afternoon I dropped in on the Browns. The Admiral is making a second tennis court with the same intense concentration that a few years ago had been applied to the control of the Atlantic Fleet. He looked up from his levels, his pegs and boards and string.
"John Pound? Never heard of him," he said. "But haven’t you got the names mixed up? Wasn’t that the name of the boy you want to get into the Navy?"
"It is just a queer coincidence of names, and quite a different man. I wanted to find out more about him. I didn’t know there were any men out of work here."
"There aren’t," said the Admiral, tersely. "I’d take him on myself if there was one. But you might ask Binks, just in case he’s new here, and I’ve missed him.
Binks is our perfect toy butcher, with the regulation joints hanging out in toy shop array, blue coat and striped apron complete.
"Doesn’t live in the neighbourhood, ma’am; I’m sure of that. can I sell you any nice sausages today, ma’am? Quite fresh in. you might perhaps ask Mrs Burrwhistle down at the sweet shop. What she don’t know about folk here ain’t worth knowing. You’d better ask her, just in case he was a newcomer and a vegetarian. Then I might have missed him.
Armed with a pound of quite unnecessary sausages I proceeded down the road to Mrs Burrwhistle’s. she spread her arms over the counter.
"And what can I do for you today, ma’am?"
"Can you tell me who John Pound is? Unemployed. Came to me for work today. Seems very anxious to get anything."
"John Pound," she repeated slowly, "not a local man, surely. There hasn’t been one of that name here for many a year, save just the lad that’s working for you. Sure you haven’t got the name twisted up?"
I laughed. "No, it’s an odd coincidence of the names. But do you mean to say you know nothing of him? He seemed to know the place. Has worked for Mr Chipping for instance."
She looked at me for a moment. "No, I don’t know him, and we all know one another here. Except for christenings and funerals there aren’t many changes. That was a grand funeral they gave Mrs Soames last week. Four horses and all. Now wouldn’t you like some nice peppermint drops?"
On my way home with the sausages and peppermint drops, I met young Dr Smithers, who has recently joined his father in the practice. To him I told my tale.
"The Guv’nor ought to know. I’ll ask him," he said.
The next day old Dr Smithers came up to see us. He seemed tense.
"About that man for whom you were enquiring," he began. "I was interested. I have kived here for so many years, you know. Can you describe him to me?"
"Dark," I said, 2and about my height; bit on the shady side of forty; rather good eyes, and oh, yes, rather bad teeth."
"Only one that wasn’t, I think, and that was in the left hand top corner," I laughed.
Dr Smithers walked over to the window, and stood looking out over the Sussex Downs. He remained silent for some moments, then said slowly: "Did any one else happen to see him? Could they give me any description do you think?"
Yes, several. Andrew for instance. He was moving near the house yesterday, whilst I was talking at the gate. Let’s find him."
We went out and ran Andrew to earth in the potting shed.
"Did you notice the man I was talking to yesterday at the gate, Andrew – the man who wanted a job? Dr Smithers wants you to tell him what he looked like, for he’s known everyone here for years."
"I can’t rightly say as I did, ma’am. I heard you talkin’ to someone at the gate, but he was down in the lane belike, and I can’t say as how I ever saw him."
Dr Smithers turned to me. "Who else?" he asked.
"Bridget went out to post a letter. She passed me on the path."
Round we went to the kitchen window. "Do you remember the man I was talking to at the gate yesterday – the man who was looking for work?"
"I didn’t see him, ma’am. I heard you talking to someone, and I took it he was standing in the lane."
"But surely you passed us at the gate when you went to the post?"
"I didn’t look, ma’am, really." Bridget flushed. Mails have taken on a vast importance in our household since Bridget’s young man sailed with his draft for India.
We toured the house to the front door, and by the fire in the sitting room I dropped into an easy chair.
"You’ve got something up your sleeve, Dr Smithers. Do tell me."
He stood back to the fire, and looked at me intently. "I wanted to make quite sure it was John Pound. Your description certainly tallies in every detail.
"I don’t understand. He said he was John Pound. What is there strange about him beyond the mere coincidence of names?"
Slowly Dr Smithers lit his pipe. "It’s some years since I heard of him," he said.
"The last time was over ten years ago," he went on presently. "It was in this lane. He lived at the other end of it then, in one of the cluster of cottages above the mill. He had a wife and a young family.
"One day as he was returning from work, he saw from the top of the lane some folk collected round the mill dam at the bottom, and heard shouting. He started running, and ran all the way down. Some child had fallen in, and had been sucked down into the depths by the weir gates. There was an old man and some women there, and they thought they would have to open the sluice gates, but John Pound didn’t wait for that. He went in, just as he was, with his labourer’s boots on. So they waited. He stayed down so long they thought he had gone too, but at last he brought the child up to the weir gates where folk could seize it . . . .and then his hands went up over his head and he went down again. They got him out much later."
"And the child?"
"The child was unconscious, of course, but they brought him round. Yes, I think big John Pound knew intuitively it was little John Pound before he started running down the lane . . .They had been great chums, and the little chap always met him in the lane when he came back from work. He’s probably worried about that boy even now. Did you mention to him by any chance you were thinking of sending him into the Navy?"
"Yes, I did. But I don’t understand." My mind was groping for the solution. "How was it he wasn’t drowned?"
"But he was. I signed John Pound’s death certificate ten years ago come Michaelmas."