by Eric B. Ruark
The old beekeeper and his dog stood atop the chalk cliff and watched the sun rise over the English Channel. The tall old man smiled as the upper arc of the sun’s disc broke the straight line of the horizon and its soft, golden light enveloped them with a touch of warmth and a promise for the coming day. Heat was something his gaunt frame had come to cherish. “An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay …” mused the old man, quoting one of his favorite poets. “Obviously the sun rises to a different tune here in England than it does in the East, eh, Toby old boy,” the old man said aloud.
The lop-eared old dog shifted his position in the harness and tried to scratch at his right ear. His back paw encountered the flapping flesh only every third swing or so.
The old beekeeper smiled. Toby wasn’t the dog’s real name. The old man had been bequeathed the spaniel, lurcher, and who knows what else mongrel by an old friend who had died during the great influenza epidemic that struck the world after the Great War. The old beekeeper’s Toby had been the dog’s great-great grand sire and the old man felt it easier to call the dog by a name that he already knew rather than learn a new one. The dog didn’t seem to mind. At least, he never expressed any dissatisfaction with his new name, nor with his relocation from London to the Sussex Downs, nor to his having to pull a dogcart over the clay lanes when the honey harvest was ripe. The old man bent over and stroked the animal’s shaggy head and mused that here was another city dog that didn’t seem to mind the country life.
The old man started to walk away and the old dog followed along faithfully pulling the cart filled with jars of honey, each one earmarked for a particular client along the way. The two of them walked along the winding lanes of Sussex clay in the silence of a true symbiotic relationship. Sheep moved out of their way without either of them having to break their strides as they wound their way past the ubiquitous hedgerows and stone walls, every now and again climbing to a high point on the lane where they could catch a glimpse of the sea. They walked passed old houses which were named after the men who built them centuries ago. The identities of the newer residents were doomed to reside in an exchange telephone book until they, too were replaced by another wave of newcomers who had suddenly discovered the Downs, the sea and leisure time.
The old man’s first stop was at a large, straggling building, old at the wings and even older at the center, with towering Tudor chimneys and a lichen-covered, high-pitched roof of Horsham slabs. Having been inside, once upon a time, the old man knew that the ceilings were corrugated with heavy oaken beams and its uneven floors sagged into sharp curves. In the center of the house was an ancient fireplace with and iron screen behind it dated 1670. The old man smiled remembering that it was the kind of room a gentleman could put his feet up before a splendid log fire and smoke a pipe or two or three in utter contentment.
The old man climbed the doorsteps which were worn into curves by the passage of time and people and deposited three jars of honey at the top. The money for the honey was secured near the top of the steps beneath an iron doorstop. The old man ignored the money as he always did. The current owner/resident was a widow, having lost her husband in the Battle of the Boar’s Head at Richebourg-l’Avoué in the Great War and her father-in-law in the Influenza epidemic that followed. Years before, the beekeeper had performed a service for the father-in-law, and in honour of him and the lost son, he felt that a few jars of honey during the season was little enough to offer in honour of their sacrifice and memory.
The old man and the dog continued on their journey walking down the lane towards the village. Only, it was a village no longer. It had been ‘discovered’ by those with time and money and their influx had forced the little seaside community to grow into a formidable seaside town that hugged the coast in a gap in the chalk cliffs. The old man’s first stop was at the new restaurant on the east side of the town. He guided Toby and the dogcart down several alleys and came to a stop at the facility’s back door. The beekeeper knocked and the door was immediately opened by Jabez Wilson, the owner/proprietor of the establishment.