Big thank you from


Anna Buckingham

We had just moved into the old farmhouse the day before and I was exploring the various outhouses that surrounded the big cobbled yard.

My small son Tom toddled along behind me, while our two year old border collie Bolfer raced around sniffing in every corner. I had just emerged from the empty barn when I heard the big iron gate at the side of the house being shut.

Who could that be?' I wondered.

We had no close neighbours and I did not remember hearing a car on the road. The dog started barking and raced around the corner.

Following slowly with the baby in my arms, I stopped in surprise at the sight of a short stooped man leaning on the gate with his back to me. He appeared to be wearing an assortment of old clothes much too big for him and a greasy looking cap on his head

`A tramp,' I thought, `that's all I need. It's a wonder the dog hasn't scared him off.

`Hello,' I said, `what do you want?' He ignored me. I spoke again, louder thus time; maybe he was hard of hearing. Still no response. Having lived in the country for some time I had met my fair share of tramps; they were usually harmless - just looking for a handout or maybe a bed in the hayloft.

But this one made me feel a wee bit uneasy. I was wondering what to do next when the man suddenly turned around and faced me. I started back in fright, his body was twisted and bent over sideways, the left arm almost touching the ground. He stared at me in amazement, obviously not expecting to find anyone in the yard.

My uneasiness now quickly turned to alarm. Clutching Tom tightly, I called the dog to my side, but Bolfer seemed quite taken with the poor deformed creature who was now uttering strange whining noises as he moved towards us with a lurching sideways gait, his laceless boots clattering on the cobbles.


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For a few seconds my feet were rooted to the ground, then I turned and fled through the back door, bolting it behind me. Tom clung to my neck and whimpered as I leaned against the door and listened.

All I could hear was the dog barking. After a few minutes I felt calm enough to look through the kitchen window and was shocked to find myself looking straight into his face pressed against the glass. Close up the features were twisted and ugly his slack open mouth full of black broken teeth, but his brown eyes were sad and confused.

There was a sudden commotion in the yard and someone pulled the man roughly away from the window. It was John, my landlord.

`Go home,' he shouted and pushed him down the yard. I opened the door to the big red-faced man who started to apologise.

`I'm sorry, Mrs G. I came to warn you about William, but ... you have already met, and as you can see, he's deaf and dumb. I hope he didn't upset you too much.'

I admitted to having been a bit frightened but John assured me that William was harmless. `Just don't encourage him around the place,' he said. `Chase him away.'

I had no intention of encouraging him; in fact I would be quite happy if I never set eyes on the man again.

My husband James was a bus conductor, on late shift. When he came home I told him what had happened and he said the same as John: `Don't encourage him.'

William was known for miles around. He was a hard worker and often helped out at harvest times Summer and winter he trudged along the narrow road, stopping to lean on a fence or gate where there might be a horse or some cattle. He often warned farmers if their animals were in trouble and could be trusted to watch over them till help arrived. He was often referred to as `the dummy' especially by the bigger boys at the village school who thought it was great fun to tease William, who would then chase them with a big stick he always carried.

After our first encounter he would come into the yard and stand near the kitchen window. At first I tried to ignore him and even tried to chase him away, but he would be back a few days later. One day I gave him a piece of fresh baked bread. He took it from me, nodded his thanks and shambled off. After that he nearly always turned up on baking days. There was nothing wrong with his sense of smell.

We lived in that parish for seven years and during that time I had three more children. They were not afraid of William. He would watch them playing, his body swaying from side to side and a twisted smile on his face.

I would put the latest baby out in the pram knowing that the dog would guard it; he was like a baby sitter to the children, rounding them up if they strayed from the yard. No one was allowed near the pram - except William. Bolfer would stand back waving his tail as William grimaced horribly at the baby.

William must have been a handful for his family. John told me they had trouble getting him to bathe or have his hair cut. I once saw his room near the back door. There was a bed, table and chair; a few hooks on the wall held his clothes. He ate alone.

I felt a bit sorry for William, but I could sympathize with John and his wife. I would not have him eating at my table either, and I thought they did the best they could for him.

However, although they always left him plenty of food they sometimes went off for the whole day, often coming home when William was in bed.

One day in the middle of summer they went away early and arrived home about nine o'clock that night. I saw the car go up the lane, then shortly after I was surprised to hear a loud banging and screaming coming from the direction of the farm. James was on late shift and the children were in bed. Leaving the dog to look after the house I went quickly up the lane to investigate.

I was afraid to go too near so I stayed in the shelter of the hedge, but I was close enough to see that John and his wife were trapped in their car while a screaming frustrated William battered the roof with a large stick. Every time they tried to open the doors he would rush at them menacingly, hopping from one side of the car to the other in his rage. Fortunately the noise alerted another neighbour who came with his son and managed to calm William down.

Nobody was hurt, but a very dented and battered car helped to remind John and his wife of their responsibilities.

Anna Buckingham migrated to Australia from Ireland and now lives in Monbulke. This is her first published story.