Chapter 5 - The Coalman Always Knocks Twice
"No father" called out Mini from the inside, relative safety of the privy "Please don't come in… I'm powdering my nose right now."
Arthur was furious at being kept waiting for his ablutions, especially by a young slip of a girl smudging on her lipstick "But I'm hangin' on fer dear life out here Las - she's gonna blow any moment… can't yer do yer make-up inside?"
Mini shuddered at her father's complete lack of tact and crass misunderstanding: what if she had actually been seated and 'at work' in the privy, she wondered to herself? At least the Master's dignity was preserved, as Arthur's heavy footsteps were heard plodding back up the little garden, with his swearing and cussing still hanging heavily in the cold night air.
"I owe you big time Las" the Master muttered, as he adjusted himself and tucked away his fire-fighting equipment "See you soon" he hissed with a relieved, false grin on his face, as he disappeared down the garden and nipped through the back gate, still fiddling with his twisted trouser braces as he sped on his way.
Back indoors, Emma felt that her world was spinning out of control. Her husband was now becoming completely intolerable; her daughter was clearly becoming a woman far too quickly for her liking, and Emma couldn't fathom her out at all; Little Arthur was clearly depressed and was suffering from some strange and mysterious upper leg injury, which nobody would talk about voluntarily.
If all that wasn't enough, both of the Ellenshaw women appeared to be spending far too much time staring at the Bigwood house night and day, for some reason unknown to Emma.
As she mused over her 'lot' in life, there was a loud knock followed by a cheery whistle at the front door.
"Got me load. Shall I shoot it right in fer yer now?"
Emma went quickly to the door, only to see the beautifully broad and muscular young shoulders of Edwin, the handsome and youthful coalman, going back to his wagon. "I've two big bags. Shall I fill your bunker right now?" he inquired, in his deep, rich, husky tone, displaying a cheeky grin across his broad, smiling face.
Far from being brought back down to earth with a reality 'bump' by the arrival of Edwin, Emma blushed slightly, and involuntarily pushed a wisp of hair back from her forehead. "Just a moment, Ed. I need to just check the coast is clear afore you fill me scuttle to the hilt."
She hurried through the scullery to the back yard at breakneck speed, with the excited expectation of a Grand National winner about to cash in their long-shot odds ticket with a depressed bookmaker. There was thunderous noise coming from the privy. Mini was sitting on the damp floor, with her head in her hands. 'What's the matter, love? You look as though you've seen a ghost.'
Mini looked up. Her face was ashen. 'Ah, ah. I came over quite peculiar. I'll be fine in a minute.' She rose shakily to her feet, steadied herself momentarily on the washing pole, and then lurched past her mother into the house.
Beyond the back wall, Emma thought she could hear a guttering noise in next door's back yard. Now was not the time to investigate.
Edwin pushed through the back door, a single, huge sack on his shoulders. 'Come on,' he said, 'Open up.'
Emma fumbled with the latch to the shed and pulled it open. The sack was emptied into the bunker. Despite all of her confusion, Emma found herself quite openly staring at his rippling muscles, which glistened in the sunlight, coated in a thin film of honest, hard-working sweat.
Edwin, Emma mused silently to herself, was everything Arthur was not; he was funny, kind, gentle, youthful, playful and recognised her as a woman, rather than a domestic object of blame. Just the thought and slight of Edwin made her very body crackle with femininity and want: he made her feel maternal and yet wild too: he was the man she loved, but could never snare permanently. Temporary love was better than no love at all for Emma, so she settled for this option freely, believing that occasional relief was still fulfilling and made her feel alive.
She was brought back to reality abruptly from her day-dream, by way of Arthur bursting forth from the now smouldering and steaming privy, still wrestling with his pyjamas. "Can't live with that. I'll have to leave the door open. It's roaring in there today love. Oh, what's this?' Arthur stooped and picked up a shiny tool from the floor.
Emma was forced to look. Arthur approached with a puzzled expression, surveying the implement. 'And there's a kind of green slime all over the floor of the privy too.'
Edwin dumped the second sack and joined the couple and stared down at what Arthur has holding. "That's from the Hall, that is. You can see the crest on the handle. What's it doing here - have you got turkeys need a doin'?"
"Totally buggered if I know," said Arthur. "Things are going daft round here. When I came out of 'er last night, I could have sworn there was a huge, bare white hairy arse disappearing through the back gate and young Mini was screaming fit to wake the dead at me to not enter the dump-house."
Just then, there was another moan from next door's yard. Arthur did up his pyjama cord and went to the wall. "Your lordship, what's happened?"
"Here, look Missus, it's the Master and he don't look too good." Arthur called over his shoulder to Emma.
As all eyes peered over the low wall, they were, to a person, quite astonished to see the Master suspended by his braces, caught on the street's chestnut brazier lid, which was temporarily stored in their next door neighbour's garden.
As the Master wriggled around like an over-sexed stoat, attempting to struggle free from his bonds, all who gathered mused over how this could have possibly happened, but only one of the onlookers knew the secret: Mini suddenly stepped forward, cleared her voice and spoke … "I've been playing a bit of an exciting game with the Master and it's all got a bit out of hand."
The penny suddenly dropped for Emma...