There was silence after the knocking, and then the flap flap of slippers on flagstones. Eventually a skinny old woman with a face the colour and texture of a walnut peered around the door.
‘Yes?’ she said.
THE NOTICE SAID ‘MAN WANTED’.
‘Did it? Did it? That’s been up there since before last winter!’
I AM SORRY? YOU NEED NO HELP?
The wrinkled face looked at him thoughtfully.
‘I can’t pay more’n sixpence a week, mind,’ it said.
The tall figure looming against the sunlight appeared to consider this.
YES. it said, eventually.
‘I wouldn’t even know where to start you workin’, either. We haven’t had any proper help here for three years. I just hire the lazy goodfornothin’s from the village when I want ‘em.’
‘You don’t mind, then?’
I HAVE A HORSE.
The old woman peered around the stranger. In the yard was the most impressive horse she’d ever seen. Her eyes narrowed.
‘And that’s your horse. is it?’
‘With all that silver on the harness and everything?’
‘And you want to work for sixpence a week?’
The old woman pursed her lips. She looked from the stranger to the horse to the dilapidation around the farm.
She appeared to reach a decision, possibly on the lines that someone who owned no horses probably didn’t have much to fear from a horse thief.
‘You’re to sleep in the barn, understand?’ she said.
SLEEP? YES. OF COURSE. YES, I WILL HAVE TO SLEEP.
‘Couldn’t have you in the house anyway. It wouldn’t be right.’
THE BARN WILL BE QUITE ADEQUATE, I ASSURE YOU.
‘But you can come into the house for your meals.’
‘My name’s Miss Flitworth.’
‘I expect you have a name, too,’ she prompted.
YES. THAT’S RIGHT.
She waited again.
‘What is your name?’
The stranger stared at her for a moment, and then looked around wildly.
‘Come on,’ said Miss Flitworth.’l ain’t employing no-one without no name. Mr . . . ?’
The figure stared upwards.
‘No-one’s called Mr Sky.’
MR . . . DOOR?
‘Could be. Could be Mr Door. There was a chap called Doors I knew once. Yeah. Mr Door. And your first name? Don’t tell me you haven’t got one of those, too. You’ve got to be a Bill or a Tom or a Bruce or one of those names.’
ONE OF THOSE.
ER. THE FIRST ONE?
‘You’re a Bill?’
Miss Flitworth rolled her eyes.
‘All right, Bill Sky . . .’ she said.
‘Yeah. Sorry. All right, Bill Door . . .’
CALL ME BILL.