HARVEST MOON. Written by Colmore.
The lads from the Postlynch Estate farm were in good heart as they set out for Winchbourne, specifically The Corner Cupboard Inn for the annual local Harvest Supper. A time to catch up and socialise at the squires’ expense with the lads – and importantly the lasses – from the neighbouring farms and estates. New friendships and relationships could be formed to be nurtured like a candle flame through the dark, cold winter months and, in the case of existing relationships, banked up warm, in both cases ready to burst out into open flame in the lighter, warmer summer days.
The evening was warm and as the sun set, draining the colour from the sky, the harvest moon started to rise, slowly flooding the landscape in an eerie red light.
“Wow,” Tommy Hawkins exclaimed, “not seen one like that before ever.”
“You be not old enough, my lad,” laughed Old Miles who was rumoured by the local young’uns to be at least 100 years old, a notion he himself never denied for fear, as he put it, of spoiling the magic. The older lads simply knew that he did a first-class impression of Santa Claus every Christmas.
“But beware,” Miles continued sucking his old clay pipe, “a harvest moon that colour can bring grave misfortune on the unwary or imprudent. Treat it as an omen.”
The cart lurched on the rutted road as they entered the small town, the way illuminated by the ever rising moon and the odd light peeping through drawn blinds. The lads were beginning to josh each other as to who might meet favour with which particular girl.
“I do believe, Tommy Hawkins, you’d be made for young Eva from Dugdale,” Jo Riley called out to general agreement.
“Aye, Jo, she’s fairer than your young Rosie.” Henry Evans retorted. “Bigger up top and….”
“Calm it, boys,” Miles cut in. “We ain’t even seen a drop of drink and you’re squabbling.”
Just then the cart made as if to turn off left and Miles suddenly shouted to the driver, “Where you going, Fred?”
“Down Cowl Lane.” Fred grumbled in a surly fashion. “Same as always.”
“No ‘ee don’t, Fred Longbotham. Not on a night like this with a blood harvest moon; we’re not going past the old Abbey ruins,” Miles cut in. “A moon like that is an omen of likely bad things and it ain’t worth risking it.”
Jo Riley called out, “Why not Mr. Miles, sir? Surely there’s nothing to be seen down there except the old ruins,” but was silenced by a glare from Miles.
Fred grumbled and resumed his course down North Street before turning into the High Street where the inn, all lit up with lanterns, awaited the would-be revellers. The lads tumbled into the inn, some straight into the arms of girlfriends, others looking around and greeting friends and acquaintances from around the neighbourhood. The noise was deafening but punctuated by the shouts of Jim the landlord and his staff and beningly watched over by Jim Hawkins, the sergeant from the local police house.
“Sergeant Jim,” one lad shouted, “why not send one of your constables then you could enjoy this off-duty.”
“I’ll enjoy it anyhow, Howie,” Hawkins smiled cheerily. “I knows this is your first Harvest Supper, so let me put it this way. Me, free pints and food, a night off from the missus – and I gets to see you lot misbehave. Then I’ve got something, if I needs it, to keep you all on the straight and narrow for another year. You young’uns just love it when I threatens to tip the wink to your fathers.”
Howie, suitably chastened, retreated to find his group from Colliers Farm who were in full flow. Meanwhile young Jo Riley was getting on well with Rosie Smith with whom he first became acquainted back in early spring, several late night treks back from a neighbouring farm having proved worthwhile. The beer flowed and the food appeared in good time and in sufficient quantity to line the revellers’ stomachs.
The evening wore on and Jo who, to the amusement of some of his elders, had his neck firmly buried in Rosie’s neck, whispers,
“Rosie, it’s still a warm evening. Fancy a stroll with me?” To which Rosie giggled and nudged Jo to get moving.
“Off to the privy,” he said to the other lads and lasses who took hardly any notice so engrossed they were in various raucous conversations except for Sergeant Jim who noted simply that nature was taking its course which doubtless would likely result in a February wedding before the tell-tale physical clues became too obvious. He looked round and noticed Rosie gone too thus confirming his suspicions.
The moon was setting, shedding its last baleful rays across the earth before the full appearance of the stars in the clear night sky. The couple headed down the back lane stopping to trade kisses before they got to an open area abutting on the ruins of the old abbey.
“Why don’t we do in here and we could lie awhile?” Jo whispered to which Rosie responded with a nuzzle in his neck.
“You done this before, Jim Riley?” she whispered.
“No, my love. You be the only one my Rosie.” And with that they sunk to the ground, Rosie consenting to let the front of her dress slip.
Rosie awoke some time later and noted the sky seemed darker, as if the stars had been switched off, the grass and ground beneath her seemed cold. She heard the church clock strike and she counted eleven. She heard some shouts in the distance.
“Eleven o’clock. That’s when the carts leave,” she thought. Panicking she shook Jo awake.
“What is it, my lovely?” he enquired groggily.
“It’s eleven o’clock. Time the carts leave the ale-house. Come on, Jo Riley, we’ll miss the ride home.” She shook him one more time.
“Oh, my lovely. I was having such a dream. Dreamt I was being received by strange figures yet I wasn’t afeared, just nervous. Seemed to be carrying me off to a better, safer place, somewhere distant.”
Rosie shook Jo harder, more urgently.
“Come on Jo. We must go. Now!” Rosie shouted as Jo staggered to his feet. Rosie began to run across the field struggling over the weeds and bits of broken masonry. As she reached the road, she met Sergeant Hawkins brandishing a lamp along with Miles and two of the other lads from Postlynch obviously searching for her and Jo.
“Where’s young Jo?” Old Miles’ voice cut in above the general expressions of concern. Rosie looked at him, her face deathly pale in the light of the lamp.
“He were fast asleep and didn’t want to get up. Muttered something about a dream and being carried off…. But I swear he was behind me.” Old Miles looked up and saw his concern mirrored in Hawkins’ face who jerked his head towards the Abbey.
“I hope we’re not too late,” Miles muttered as they stumbled across the uneven ground, “no sign of them.” They reached the wall surrounding the old Abbey but nothing. They felt along the wall until they reached the gate on the west side which was locked. But peering through the bars, Miles discerned three shapes making their way towards the ruins of the Abbey Church, two tall shapes dressed like monks dragging a third between them.
“Too late. They got him,” was all Miles would say as he and Hawkins returned to the waiting cart.
It was Hawkins who found Jo’s jacket the next morning not far from the old gateway. He took it up to Postlip but few words needed to be spoken.