I stripped right off and stood shivering on the bank. Better get it over as quickly as possible. I took a deep breath and plunged in. The initial shock of the cold water was terrible. I came up and gasped for breath.
I immediately duck-dived for the bottom but could see little under water; so I surfaced and swam for our branch attached to the barrel by the cord. I duck-dived again and followed the cord, pulling on it to help me down. Sure enough, there was our barrel brought up against a line of smooth boulders.
I swam along the line of boulders almost to the far bank and came up for air just against the bridge over the brook. There was nothing on the bottom other than our barrel and a waterlogged tree trunk. I climbed out of the water, up on to the bridge and immediately plunged from there back to the tree trunk where I had to come up again for air.
I used the cord once again to guide me back to the barrel. From there, I swam under water to where
was waiting. I clambered out shuddering from cold. Roy
‘There's n-nothing,’ I gasped through chattering teeth. ‘Only our b-barrel and a t-t-tree-trunk. I'm p-perishing of c-cold. How d-do I get d-dry?’
I tried flicking and rubbing the water off with my hands but it wasn't effective as a way of getting dry, so I grabbed my shirt and began towelling myself with it. My fingernails were blue.
The shirt didn't dry me very much but I pulled on my vest anyway. I was surprised how difficult it was to pull it on over my wet skin.
‘Winnie's coming back,’ said
. ‘She's pointing upstream— someone's coming from there.’ Roy
‘I d-d-don't c-care who's c-c-coming,’ I stuttered. ‘I'm g-getting d-dressed.’
I started to put on my underpants but had difficulty pulling them up over my wet shanks.
‘Hurry up,’ called
urgently. ‘Get behind the hedge. A man's coming— he'll see you.’ Roy
‘I d-d-don't c-c-care if it's the K-K-K-King himself. I'm f-f-f-freezing.’
‘There's one King across the river anyway— Winnifred King,’ smirked
‘D-d-damn that,’ I said, ‘I'm g-getting d-d-dressed.’
I struggled into my shirt, nearly tearing it in the process. It clung to my arms even worse than the underpants to my legs. I then laboured to put on my trousers.
‘Get behind the hedge quick,’ hissed
. ‘It's the vicar.’ Roy
‘Oh g-g-gawd,’ I groaned as I hopped towards the hedge, my pullover and jacket in my hand.
‘Too late,’ whispered
. ‘I think he's seen you. Winnie's going to meet him.’ Roy
‘Hello Vicar,’ we heard her say.
‘Why hello Winnifred. What are you doing here?’
‘Just thought I'd take a little walk.’
‘Me too. Who are those two boys on the other bank? I thought I recognised one of them.’
‘Boys?’ said Winnifred. ‘I saw three men in overalls. They were going towards Spruffton. I think they're mending the towpath— see the notice on the bridge. You can't go any further. Let's go back.’
‘I saw boys,’ insisted the vicar.
‘Oh, you mean Sydney Snaylor,’ said Winnifred, moving back upstream. ‘He lives over beyond the copse. Did you see all the berries there? They say that's a sign of a hard winter. Come along— I'll show you. Do you think we'll have a lot of snow this year?’
‘I don't know Sydney Snaylor,’ said the vicar giving one last glance towards where we were hiding. He allowed himself to be led away by Winnifred.
I put on my pullover and jacket. At least they were easier to get into than my other clothes. I picked up my socks, wrung them out and tried to pull them on over my shaking legs but without success. It wasn't until I rolled them down to the toe and then rolled them up again over my calves that I succeeded. They felt abominably cold and clammy. My feet were numb in my sodden shoes.
‘I told you he'd seen us.’ hissed
. ‘Winnie tried to distract him— but it was too late.’ Roy
‘If h-h-he t-t-tells m-my aunt it was m-m-me— I'll b-b-be in h-h-h-hot w-w-water. I j-j-just w-w-wish I w-w-were! I'm sh-shaking all over. I-I'm g-going b-back b-by the r-road. C-come on— l'let's r-r-run.’