By Victor Sullivan © 2015 Consternation
Shocked surprise, furious anger, yells of "JOHNNIE" and gasps of utter disbelief all mingled in wild confusion as the weary Gill family entered the kitchen after their long day at "The Sports in the Mines."
What had the boy been doing that had made such a mess? And where was he?
But there was no response and no indication of where he might be.
Cows had to be milked in the fading light. Animals had to be fed. Neighbouring farms were visited, the strange tracks in the lane suggested that something odd had travelled along it, dragging something behind it. Where could Johnnie have gone?
The ease with which Johnnie could propel himself forwards on two wheels, aided by gravity on the downhill sections of his journey, had brought him to the door of Dan-the-Tailor's house in about thirty minutes, arriving as night was falling and Dan was about to go to bed. Responding to the knocking, Dan opened the door, saw nobody and went to close it again when a voice from ground level stopped him.
"I've come to say thanks for Cromwell."
"Jaysus! What have I got to do with that oul' bastard?!"
"It's this leather coat thing you made for me. I call it Cromwell. I came to say thanks for it. It's a great help."
"You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours! You fixed my sewing machine. Come in… And bring in that contraption you're lying on…. Well I never….! Who made that thing for you?"
They talked until dawn streaked the eastern sky. Dan made tea. They agreed that the Gills would all be out looking for their missing charioteer. He had better head for home. A neighbor of Dan's was passing with a horse and cart and he caught the end of the thrown rope.
"Can you gimme a pull, please?"
"He's Thomas Gill's lad who was injured by that sheep a few years ago." Dan explained.
"Oh! You're the fella who fixes sewing machines and clocks. I've heard lot about you. I'm going up your way for a load of peat. How do you want to travel? Fast or slow?"
"Well I've never tried this before so start slow, then we'll see about fast when I get things worked out."
Slow mode was progressing favorably with Johnny gripping Belle in his hands but he began to realize that holding on to the rope for a long distance was tiring. His carriage needed a towing bollard like boats have. Then they met another horse cart coming towards them its driver standing on the flat floor balancing on wide-spread feet as he called out,
"Have you seen my Johnnie anywhere along the road?"
Both horses were pulled up, facing each other in the narrow lane. Johnnie's carriage had continued to run forwards beneath the cart that was towing him and he almost ran up against its horse's hind legs.
"Well now Thomas, I just might have."
"He's right behind me."
"Well I can't see him."
"He's at the other end of this rope."
"He has had us out all night searching for him and his mother wants to skin him alive for messing the house."
Johnnie's father towed him home. Proudly.
As the horse-cart passed in front of the Gill's farmhouse, His father untied the tow-rope, leaving his son abandoned on his wheeled creation in the middle of the lane. By the time Nancy had been un-tackled and stabled Johnnie had braved whatever had awaited him inside the kitchen. His father paused outside the door to examine his son's trolley or whatever he might have named the thing. It was little more than a plank on two wheels. Wheels!!! The wheels with their brass bands were easily identified as having once been his precious Block that he had salvaged from the mast of that unknown lost ship. His anger boiled up as he reached for the door-latch… but he stopped himself, looked again at the brass-shod wheels on Johnnie's trolley. His anger subsided and instead he shook his head and smiled. He had to hand it to the boy, he had brains and hands and he could use both. The wrath of his wife was still reverberating around on the other side of the door; one parent was more than enough in that kitchen. Her husband slunk off towards his workshop in search of whatever other revelations might await him there.
A patch of fresh, yellow sawdust caught his eye in an odd location beside the rough stone fence. Lying on the sawdust was a thick disc of wood, the unwanted remnant of The Block, no longer resplendent in its former brass-banded status. Admiration for his crippled son overcame any remaining anger. Thomas Gill picked up the disc of wood and returned to the house.
He entered the kitchen cheerfully, in vivid contrast with the prevailing atmosphere inside.
"Look what Johnnie made for us!" he announced as he landed the wood disc on the table with a heavy thump. "The finest chopping-board ever seen. It needs a lot of polishing but Johnnie will see to that. It used to be my Block. The rest of it is on that carriage contraption he made for himself that's outside the front door."
"What carriage contraption?"
"It's not a contraption." declared a voice from beneath the kitchen table, "It's Eureka. It's my new chariot."
They all went out to see what his father was talking about and Johnnie dragged himself onto the deck of Eureka and demonstrated how it worked.
"Wouldn't wheels at the back end make it even easier to pull along?" someone suggested.
"Then it would only go in a straight line." Johnnie replied, 'but if I had a castoring wheel that could swing around…"
When on his next trip to Castletown Bere, Johnnie's father visited the blacksmith's workshop before leaving the town. It was time to arrange for a new set of shoes for Nancy. While waiting for the smith to finish his tricky job of fitting a hot metal band around a wooden cart-wheel, Thomas Gill casually wandered among the blacksmith's accumulated collection of scrap-iron that was piled in various heaps around the forge. Some things he could not identify but most of the junk had once been connected with either sea-fishing or farming. He poked a rusty wheel with his boot. It looked like one… It swiveled around… Yes!! Very rusty but fully functioning, a pair of heavy-duty, iron, castor wheels mounted on what looked like a base for some sort of bin. One if them would vastly improve Johnnie's chariot and make it easier to maneuver around corners and tight places. It would also make the thing quieter. That constant scraping noise was beginning to get on his nerves, a constant reminder of his youngest son's appalling handicap. Those wheels were worth a bit of bargaining effort. Yes, Nancy would come back in four weeks time for the set of shoes but he would take those rusty old castor wheels as part of the deal.
"Any idea where those rusty old wheels came from?"
"They're from an old landing-barrow that they had down at the fish-palace back in the days when pilchards were the big thing for the fishermen around here. The pilchards vanished all of a sudden. Now it's nearly all herring for pickling they're catching these days."
Thomas Gill threw his find onto the cart floor, arranged to return for Nancy to be shod two weeks later and set off homeward. Getting the rust off his acquisition would keep Johnnie occupied for days.
By dawn next morning one of the castor wheels had become rust free, greased and was now mounted beneath the tail end of Eureka. The clay surface of the yard in front of the farmhouse was a maze of overlapping circular patterns where Eureka had been thoroughly tested throughout the night to determine the best position for the tail castor and prove its three-wheeled flexibility beyond doubt.
A few days later a carefully selected, heavy tree-branch had been cut by Richard at Johnnie's request and dragged to the fuel shed at the end of the farmhouse where it was reduced to a larger than usual pile of firewood logs. The end section had been sawn off and escaped the axe; result: One very new chopping block appeared beneath the workbench above the cow-stalls. It had letters carved into its side: 'THANKS.'