Henry's Freedom

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A love affair between a man and freedom

Henry's Freedom

Douglas Sutherland-Bruce

Henry Anderson was a clerkly and careful man.He had been raised during the Great Depression, one of a family of four children.
Three boys and a girl.Although they had never gone hungry, there was very little money for anything but food.
Little Henry had watched his father, an engine driver, on many occasions while the old man cut up newspaper to line his boots for that day’s work.  Because of the hardship that he had known, Henry’s father was determined that none of his children should be blue-collar workers. 
He decided that Henry would be a bank clerk. Henry wasn’t consulted, if he had been, he would have said that he rather wanted to be a farmer.He loved the soil and tended the small back garden faithfully.He even managed to coax a few vegetables from the unrewarding earth.
However, he was a gentle boy and did not want to cross his father, who had a ferocious temper, so he joined a bank as a junior clerk.
True to his temperament, he worked hard and well.His rise in the bank was unremarkable but steady.At the end of twenty-five years of service, he found himself Chief Clerk in charge of the Bills Department of a middle-size branch in an industrial town in the Midlands.
One morning, as he walked to work from his lodgings in his neat city clothes, he witnessed an accident.A commonplace road accident of the sort that happens every day in some city of the globe.Another statistic in tile Road Toll.
An elderly man ahead of Henry stepped off tile pavement without looking.A car coming the other way did not see him in the poor light until to was too late.The car caught him a glancing blow as it swerved wildly and flung the old man into the path of an oncoming bus.It was all over in a second.A scream of breaks, a dull sound like a bag of sand falling; and silence.A crowd gathered, of course, as crowds will; standing silently around staring until moved along by the inevitable bobby.
Henry did not stop, he walked on, stunned.In all his forty-four years, this was his first experience of sudden death.He had been too young for the war as a soldier and it had left him largely untouched.
That day he performed his work mechanically, with little understanding of what he was doing.Adding columns of figures and signing his name countless times in a sort of dream.He told no one of what he had seen.  It was too important, too private.It was his own little glimpse into mortality.Besides, he had no friends at the bank. Acquaintances, certainly, but not friends.
That evening, as he sat eating his solitary supper before the fire he thought to himself. ‘It was so quick.  One minute you’re there, alive, a being with feelings and passions, a family perhaps, and worries about money ... and a few seconds later ... nothing, absolutely nothing.A carcass to be stared at by the morbid.
It could easily have been me.I was going to cross there.What if I had?  What if that had been me?Life is so short, so ... temporary. I’m a banker.I loath banking.I always wanted to farm. I wonder why I didn’t?’
He cleared away his few dishes and washed up.He went to bed to stare at the ceiling for a long time before he finally fell asleep.
He looked dispassionately at his face in the shaving mirror the next morning.  It was a round, mild face with pale blue, slightly protuberant eyes.
He saw the unhealthy pastiness of the skin, the eyebrows starting to bristle, the myriad of fine lines at the corners of the eyes. He dropped his gaze to his hands. They were good strong hands, but the nails were beginning to thicken with age and the skin appeared to be covered with a layer of fine scales.
‘My body is aging and dying around me,’ he thought.He took one last disdainful look at himself in the mirror and began to share methodically.
His resignation came as a complete surprise to the bank.  Like Henry’s father before them, they had Henry’s life planned out in detailand they did not care to have their plans disrupted.They wanted him to be an Accountant of a small branch.
His name had been suggested as a possible Manager  but the Bank felt that he did not have the requisite personality. Managers should be able to woo customers, to play golf and generally radiate bonhomie.Henry, the bank said in its deliberate way, could do none of these things.
‘Are you sure that you want me to accept this, Anderson?’ asked McKenzie, Henry’s Branch Manager.He tapped Henry’s letter lying on the desk.He sat comfortably behind the acreage of polished oak with fingertips pressed lightly together.‘Are you sure that you are doing the right thing?  You realize it means the end of your pension.’
‘No, I’m not at all sure I’m doing the right thing,’ replied Henry, perched awkwardly on the very edge of the chair.‘But, don’t you see, Mr. McKenzie, I’ve got to take the chance.If I don’t do it, I’ll always feel that I ought to have, and have nothing but regrets if I don’t.’
‘Very well,” said McKenzie with an ill grace. You do know that we can’t hold your job open for you if you fail in this, ah, venture.’
‘Yes, I do know.And I’m going to buy a smallholding, not more than about ten acres, and I’m going to farm.’
‘Hmm, yes.  Well I suppose I’d better wish you ‘Good Luck’ then.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
Henry’s search for a smallholding took him longer than he had expected.  The farms he was shown were either too small or too big;  had no water or were mostly swamp;  Some had land full of rocks and others were too steep.Just about the only thing they had in common was that they were all asking a price far too high.
The weeks went by.Henry came close to dispair.He had given away his security, recklessly thrown away his pension for what?An idea and ideal that seemed more and more ridiculous the more he thought about it.He seemed to be forever in Land Rovers, bouncing around on dreadful roads, hanging on to his new tweed hat with one hand and grimly holding on with the other, while listening to a steady stream of sales talk from Real Estate men in loud check suits.
Eventually he found it - his ideal farm.Twelve acres of gently sloping land.The soil was a good rich black, moist as fruit cake.  It was deeply satisfing to grasp in your hand, make a fist and open your hand to see the earth hold the imprints of your fingers.
There was what the Real Estate Agent called ‘an olde worlde cottage of considerable charm’Considerable charm it did have, but no running water.Still, to someone who had lived in Boarding Houses and lodgings all their life it was delightful, and there was a stream not far away and a hand pump in the kitchen.
As well as the cottage, there were several sheds and outbuildings in various stages of disrepair.
The asking price was more than Henry wanted to pay, but the smallholding had caught Henry’s heart.This was what he wanted.He knew he had come home.
After some haggling over the price and what went with the property, the farmlet became his.It made a considerable dent in his capital, but what with the amount he received from the bank and hie own careful savings, he would be all right if he wasn’t extravagant.
Breathes there a man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land’
Henry recited to himself as he stood on his own land for the very first time.  ‘Scott was talking about patriotism,’ thought Henry,  ‘but never mind, the idea’s the same.’
Henry now entered a time of pure bliss.He toured the countryside in search of tools, equipment and stock.Every waking moment was occupied by the farm.He rose early, worked long, if inexpertly, and retired late.  Every muscle in his body ached.
Gradually, the farm took shape around him.He repaired the sheds, ploughed the land and sowed it, put up fences and cleared the vegetable garden. He even bought a cow.A Jersey cow, with huge eyes and long curling eyelashes that would be the envy of any film star.He called her Marilyn, and learned to milk her.That was difficult, and hia thumbs ached dully for days until he got the rhythm.
And then, one menorable day, he bought a horse.It was never hia intention at buy a horse. even though there was a stable on his land and he did know how to ride.
He had learned how to ride as a boy from some Gypsies that had camped near his Grandmother’s house in the country.It was during the war when he had been sent to his Grandmother because his parents felt it would be safer for him.The Gypsies camped on the common and little Henry, not having adult prejudices, had made friends with the lads.For that one glorious summer he had ridden, fished and poached with his friends.The next summer they had gone and had not seen them again.
Henry had fallen into the habit of going to as many auction sales as he could.Sometimes only to watch and get the feel of the prices.  Sometimes to buy the odd implement.
This particular day, the sale was at a farm a good way off.The sale was being held because the old farmer had died and had no next of kin.Henry arrived early, as he usually did, to have a look around and see what was on offer.As he went round he made little mental notes on the prices he could afford on the items.If during the course of the sale, that figure was exceeded, then he  would drop quietly out of the bidding.
The farm had a forlorn and un-tended look.Grass sprouted from between the cracks of the paving and broken panes of glass had been replaced by plywood.A general air of neglect hung over the place like a pall.  The buyers and spectators started to arrive.A motley collection of country folk, most in tweeds and corduroy.
The auctioneer bustled up.  He was an enormously fat man with a great pendulous belly that hung over bis belt.A tiny tartan tie reached vainly towards his belt buckle, failed badly and left about eight inches of straining striped shirt front.
His assistant put down a portable stand and he climbed up and rapped with a hammer.He read rapidly though the Rules of Auction in a high nasal voice. Then went quickly into the business of the day.
The morning was given over to the sale of the household items and equipment.After lunch would come the livestock and farm implements.
Directly after lunch they began.  The assistant would carry the stand and put it down near each shed and the auctioneer would mount it and rapidly dispose of the contents of the pen or shed.
Starting with the sheep and cattle he went through all the livestock until all that was left was a horse in the bottom paddock.By this time it was late afternoon and everyone was tired.
The paddock the horse stood in was badly overgrazed.The horse had eaten all the grass and had beeft forced to pull down what leaves were within reach on the few trees.When this source had been exausted, it had torn the bark from the trunks.Its coat was shaggy with neglect except where the hair had rubbed off at the joints where the bones stuck out.The hooves had not been trimmed in months and had grown long and split.
It stood, pitiful and thin, with its head hanging, too dispirited to even look up as the group formed round it.
‘Well, boys,’ said the auctioneer with an attempt at joviality, ‘who’ll start me off?  Shall we say:  ‘Fifty pounds?
‘Thirty, then.’
‘O’ll give ‘e foive.’ called out a wizened scarecrow of a man.
‘You can’t be serious,’ said the auctioneer, ‘why, even as dog meat alone it would be worth more than that.’
‘That’s what Oi want ‘ee fur’ replied the man.
Henry looked at the horse whose fate now seemed certain.  He felt a pang of pity for it.  Justthen the horse raised its head and looked at Henry.The eyes were lack-lustre but calm.
‘Fifteen pounds,’ called a voice clearly.  Henry was suprised to recognise it as his own, moved by who knew what well-spring of compassion.
‘Fifteen once, .. twice ... Sold!To Mr. Attderson for fifteen pounds.Thank you. Gentlemen, that concludes the sale for today.’
The crowd broke up and moved away.Henry was left alone with his horse.
‘Well, horse,’ he said,” you’re not going to be dog meat, but heaven only knows what I’m going to do with you.’
The horse stared back apathetically.
Henry arranged with the agent of the sale to have hay and water sent down to the horse and to have a blanket put over it.Then he spoke to a farmer with a horse float and made arrangements to have the horse delivered the next afternoon.
Henry spent that evening reading up on horses in one of his newly-acquired Farm Management books.  He would, he decided, clear that stuff out of the stable in the morning. A coat of paint on the door, a bit of whitewash, inside and ont and the stable would answer very well.
Bringing the horse back to health would be a different matter entirely.He must remember to ring Bob Vickers in the morning.
And so thinking, he went to bed to sleep the dreamless untroubled sleep of very small children and those who are kind to helpless animals.
Dr. Bob Vickers was a very good vet, he had a feeling for animals, an empathy, almost.He wasn’t long out of College but had rapidly built up an excellent reputation in the district among men who were not easily impressed. 
He was an ungainly and awkward young oan who seemed perpetually tired.He would drape his long body over any available support and stare owlishly though gold rimmed glasses at whoever he might happen to be talking to.A large and smelly briar pipe completed the picture he wanted to portray.Behind the facade he really was a very good vet.
Vickers stepped back from the horse and turned to Henry to deliver his findings.He had spent the last twenty minutes prodding and prying and listening to the horse. He had peered into its eyes, at its teeth and under its hooves.
‘He’s a stallion, about nine years old,  basically healthy,’  he said leaning bonelessly over the stable door.‘He’s been criminally neglected and under-nourished, but basically healthy, as I say.If you take care he’ll recover in a couple of months.I’ll give you some worm powders now and and call back in a few days.Don’t overfeed him or you’ll have colic to worry about as well.’He levered himself upright.‘He’ll make a damn fine hack.’
Henry did as he was told.He fed the horse carefully according to Bob Viokers diet, measuring oat the bran and oats with an empty jam tin.He brushed and curry-combed him until the muscles of his shoulders ached.
Slowly the horse recovered health and strength as Vickers said he would.Under Henry’s loving care and Vicker’s diet of good food, the horse filled out and his coat gleamed aad shone where before it had looked like an elderly coconut fibre doormat.Henry’s daily brushing deepened the horse’s coat from scruffy tan to a dark rich honey-gold.Henry’s Grandfather had had a meerschaum pipe with a stem exactly that colour, so Henry called the stallion Amber.
Amber and Henry prospered and ripened together.Henry lost his office pallor and the surplus weight that had started to thicken round his waist.He was forty-five now and looked and felt fifteen years younger.For the first time in his life he felt alive*
Amber grew into one of the most beautiful horses Henry had ever seen.Tall, strong and alert, the powerful muscles in his hindquarters rippled and gleamed dully as he moved in the sunlight.
It was a great day when Dr. Vickers said that he felt Amber was well enough to be ridden.A quiet walk around the paddock to start with, gradually becoming a canter, then a trot, and finally one glorious morning, a gallop over the hills.
Henry somehow identified Amber’s resurection with his own miraculous transformation from an existence of quiet desperation to one of vibrant eager life.The stallion epitomised to him all that was fine and free in his new life.  He had never been so happy, for he was a simple man.’
Then came the afternoon when Henry, having finished his chores for the day, went to Amber’s stable to bed him down. The stallion whickered with pleasure when he saw him coming. Amber put his head down against Henry’s chest to be scratched behind the ears.As he did so Henry noticed that Amber’s left eye was inflamed.He made a mental note to ask Bob about it.
Vickers was duly consulted the next time he called.
‘Don’t think its much,’ said the vet, ‘but better safe etc, though.  Here, put some of this antiseptic cream on the eye.Let me know if it gets any worse.How’s Marilyn?’  The cow had had a light case of mastitis aad was just recovering, hence the Vet’s visit.
‘She seems to be O.K. now,’ replied Henry and the conversatic drifted into other channels.
The inflamation in Amber’s eye refused to clear up.In fact it got much worse, the whole eye socket was red and angry looking.
Dr. Vickers called again, gave Amber a couple of antibiotic injections and took a number of swabs  and some blood for testing by the
equine labatory.
He returned three days later.He found Henry mucking out Amber’s stable.Henry was glad to take a break.After greetings had been exchanged. Henry said: ‘Take a look at Amber’s eye, I think those shots might have helped, it looks less inflamed to me.’
‘Henry,’ began Vickers hesitantly, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.’  He fiddled with his pipe and tobacco pouch, glad to have an excuse not to look into Henry’s face.‘Amber has a malign tumour just below the left eye socket.He is going blind in that eye.I can’t operate, its too far advanced and in too tricky a position.’
‘Oh,’ said Henry inadequately.‘That accounts for the inflamation, I suppose.There’s more though, isn’t there? You said ‘malign tumour’ that’s ... cancer.’ He hesitated over the word as though once said, it was inevitable.’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so.I’m very sorry.’
‘So it won’t stop there, will it?’It wasn’t really a question.
Vickers cleared his throat:  ‘Er, not  necessarily.We may be able to halt it for a while, it may even go into remission.’
‘But if you can’t ...’  Henry’s voice trailed off into silence and he turned to look at the magnificent animal now under sentence of death.’
‘How long?’
‘Don’t know, really.Couple of months, perhaps.’
‘So soon.Can we do anything?’
‘Lord, yes,’ said the vet,” we’ll start with a course of Gorttamine.”
The disease however was not to be cheated of its prey.Amber got progressivly worse.
He went blind in the left eye as Vickers had predicted.The whole left side of the stallion’s head grew lumpy beneath the skin, like marbles felt through velvet.
The morning that Henry noticed a slight reddening of the right eye, Vickers called again.He examined Amber carefully and spoke, choosing his words with care.
‘Henry, he started, ‘Amber is in pain ...’
‘You mean it’s time,” Henry said flatly in a voice totally devoid of emotion.’
‘Yes. If you prefer I can take him away and do it elsewhere.’
‘No,” said Henry simply, ‘I’ll do it.Leave me your humane killer.’
Henry used the rest of the afternoon digging a grave down under the trees of the back paddock.Amber had often stood there on hot summer days, flicking the flies away with a lazy tail.
By the time he had finished it was nearly dark.The huge hole gaped up at him like a black stain on the green velvet of the grass.
Next morning early Henry vent to Amber’s stable as usual, fed him, though he ate little of late.While the animal ate Henry brushed and curry-combed his glossy coat taking softly all the while.He trimmed and oiled the hooves and combed out Amber’s mane and tail.
When he was satisfied that Amber looked at his very best, he led the stallion slowly down to the back paddock.
The shot, when it came echoed and re-echoed around the little valley,

Submitted: December 30, 2008

© Copyright 2022 LeslieHerbert. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



Nice to see where the talent of writing comes from ^^

You both have your own unique styles of writing. Wonderfully written.


Tue, December 30th, 2008 1:43pm


Thank you. How kind!

Tue, December 30th, 2008 5:49am


What a beautiful piece, very moving and interesting. As my eyes traveled through your words I felt as if I had stepped into a painting that came to life. I love Henry. Gentle, kind with a quiet passion and determination. He reminds me of a farmer I once met in Narrabri.
I look forward to reading more of your work:)

Tue, December 30th, 2008 3:31pm


Thank you very much. That's most kind. Henry was, in fact, my dad.



Tue, December 30th, 2008 7:34am

Jamie Rambo

What a wonderful story, you have true talent here. I enjoyed reading it as much as I do commenting on it. Thank you for the good read... I hope to see more from you.


Tue, December 30th, 2008 6:28pm


Thank you very much. You're very kind.



Tue, December 30th, 2008 4:16pm


That makes the story even more beautiful, how lucky you are. Thank you for sharing:)

Thu, January 22nd, 2009 1:43pm

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