excerpt from The Second Ark
The sky was the blackest I had ever seen. I prayed my Meg would not be bewitched by it and produce a babe with a mark on its face. The village women had many a black tale to tell about storms and thunder. The scurrying wind was getting up and beginning to howl like a wolf from the Downs. Branches were hitting my face as the gale took hold of the tree and thrashed it around.
The monks were writing it down that 1646 had been a year of horrendous storms, torrential rain and flooding, with pellets of ice as big as rings. I never knew the number of the year. But the heavy rain worried me.
There was no work to be done in this downpour. I set off for home, my feet slipping in the mud. A sudden gust of wind struck my back and sent my feet flying from under me. I fell on my back on the streaming mud, strabbling for a hold but my hands found nothing to cling to. Meg would be in a fine temper when she saw the state of my shirt now. There might be no supper for me but a wedge of stale bread and hard cheese.
The rain was turning into small stones of ice, bouncing off the ground, hitting and stinging my face like a shower of pins. I could barely see my way back to the cottage even though I knew every step in the dark. The rain had turned it into a weird foreign place, every bit of landscape changed and contorted. Trees that I had known since a boy were fallen, their roots stuck out of the ground, bleeding into the torrent.
The cottage was swathed in a thick mist, almost impossible to see within a curtain of rain. The wind was lifting the thatch and I was sorry I had not put a new top coat of thatch on the lower layer when we first came to the cottage. It had not had one for twenty years and was sorely in need of patching.
Meg was huddled inside the cottage, the wind howling straight through it. She was already drenched, trying to save her washing, but the wind had whisked it away and my shirts were now rolling over the Downs.
“Will, my Will,” she cried, clinging to me. “The sty has gone and the hen coop. I have lost all my good hens.”
“Let me see what I can find,” I said, dreading to go out again into the storm. I could feel the walls of the cottage shaking but the flint stone and mortar was strong. There were a few bedraggled hens sheltering under a flattened bush and I tucked them under my arms and took them back to Meg. The pigs had found their own way into the cottage and were huddled against the far wall. No fire left in the hearth for the rain was coming in through the roof. Water was swirling in through the flapping door, and already the floor was a mass of mud. Our bed was wet and sodden, heaving like a raft.
The stairs to the upper chamber had long ago rotted, destroyed by some earlier disaster or lack of money to repair. I used a makeshift ladder if there was need to fetch something from the store kept upstairs. It was not a proper ladder with rungs, but a sturdy trunk of tree that had enough branches strutted out for footholds.
I was an old hand at climbing it but I doubted if my Meg in her swollen state would find it easy. But the water was pouring in and finding nowhere to go, was filling up to her knee level. She was trying to save our precious bits of pottery but they were falling from the alcove over the hearth and smashing on the hard stone.
“John Catchlove will be mad at this,” I muttered.
“He’ll have other things to worry about,” said Meg, bunching up her wet skirt as if to protect the babe from the water.
John Catchlove owned the cottage among many other properties in the neighbourhood. I was a tenant farmer, also kinsman, and paid my dues when I could.