Related Post: https://patwoodblogging.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/flood/
Louie climbed the eigheen steps to the chamber. He was late. Most of the others were standing around looking bored, but not Bourn. His mouth was a thin line, his arms were folded and he was tapping his foot on the floor. He dished Louie the dirtiest of looks.
“Sorry. It’s raining like mad out there. The car wouldn’t start and I had practically swim here, the road is flooded again.”
Bourn gave a small sigh. “Let’s get on.”
They took up their positions and untied the bell ropes, holding them still until they were given the signal. Bourn held his rope with one hand and studied his watch. Louie watched, holding his breath. The peal was due to begin at 3 a.m. precisely. Bourn was a stickler for precision. Each bell rope was left tied off in the correct position at the end of each session, with all the bells left not hanging down, but upright, so that the downward swing would produce the tone at the exact moment he wanted it. Not a full three and a half seconds later, the time it would take for the weight of the bell to lift over and drop down. If the peal began at 3 a.m., it would finish at 7. The service at Hamerton Magna was timed for 7. They must not be late. Bourn raised his hand and Louie waited for it to drop. His was the first. The responsibility was huge, the timing everything. Still Bourn waited and then the hand fell…
Louie pulled his rope as he had been taught and sighed with pleasure as he heard the great bell toll. Pleasure that was short lived. Water cascaded through the floor boards and onto his head.
Bourn’s voice was a scream.”Keep going. Don’t stop – we have a peal to ring.”
One by one they pulled on their ropes, one by one, each was soaked by the deluge of water falling through the boards of the roof above their heads. Of course, Louie thought. It had been raining so hard and the bells were full of water.
“Count,” Bourn yelled. “Count.”
Soaked, they continued to drag on the ropes.
Louie was pleased to see Bourn’s bell had given him a good dousing too. His grey hair was plastered to his head and he was as wet as everyone else. Wringing wet. Louie’s mouth stretched into an ironic smile. Wringing whilst ringing. He glanced around, counting as instructed, but almost on auto-pilot. They were all saturated. It was fitting. Outside the rains kept falling, the flood waters attacked the village for the fifth time in as many weeks. Just a couple of feet lower in the valley, they were rising. Hamptonwick and Berstead were both drowned. If the rain refused to stop, Hamerton would be next. Tonight was not an act of drama, performed out of tradition. This was intended to be an old style blessing on the villagers, digging up the old gods, trying to enlist their help. Maria would have scoffed.
“You carry your God within you,” she said. Louie was unsure about that. These days, he was unsure about most things.
Harri had already left, taking his family and Maria’s baby with him. Their little village was a island now and was was not safe, he said. So they had gone, their survival packs looking tiny. Louie wanted to escape too, but Bourn had insisted on the peal, on the village leaving en masse. Maybe it was for the best. Maybe there was safety in numbers. Just as long as the flood waters didn’t rise too much tonight. Just as long as in morning they could still cross the rushing torrent their river had become.
Louie worried that they had left it too late, that the river would be impassable. With every tug of his bell rope, Louie prayed he was wrong. Prayed that they would get away and follow Harri to the hills and safety.