In the Lap of the Gods 21

by Steve Morgan - Date: 2008-08-25 - Word Count: 1554 Share This!

"When the hell's Old Mac bringing those cows up from the bottom paddock?" complained Steve. "What's the use getting up at four in the morning if he's going to dawdle with the bloody cows?" Steve had been filling in for Crawford, who was sick, and Phil was only half listening to his grumblings as he stumped about in his boots. He kept flinging his arms out and wrapping them around himself with lots of puffing. In fact the stomping and slapping were beginning to annoy Steve.

"He'll be ages yet," Phil said huffing frosty vapour though his steepled hands in an attempt to warm them. "It'll be light soon, and he's usually late on Monday mornings anyway." Phil had been on Milking duty last year and was quite knowledgeable so naturally Steve followed his lead. "Come on let's go inside the shed and keep warm." They trudged from frozen ground onto hygienically steam-cleaned concrete. All the gleaming metal and stainless steel cow bales spread out in a uniformed row. Bundles of cold rubber cups hung grape-like waiting for their turn to be warmed by pulsating milk.

"Hey!" cried Phil; "There's a forty-four gallon drum of petrol over there. Have you ever used one of those crank-handle pumps before?"

"No! But I suppose you just crank her up and down like those old water pumps you see in the Western movies," Steve said hurriedly trying to sound as if I knew all about them. Egos are funny things.

"Well here's a tin," said Phil shoving it at him. "Let's pump some out."

"You can. I'm not messing about with that," Steve said emphatically.

"Scared eh?" Phil sneered, not looking at Steve. "Scared of a little bit of petrol!"

"Grow up! Steve said. "I'm not scared, it's just... Old Mac he'll be back soon with the herd. Anyway what would you do with a tin of petrol?" Steve asked smugly.

"We could light it in the tin and keep warm for a start," he replied. "Come on." Not wanting to feel chicken in front of the older boy Steve finally agreed. "You hold the tin. Anything's better than standing round here freezing our butts off."

The pump began its squeaky tune in protest to the heaving up and down of the plunger. It was proving harder than Steve thought and at first nothing came out of the rubber hose. The pump was priming itself ready to deliver but the boys weren't to know that, until all of a sudden out shot a great gush of petrol not only in Phil's tin but also all over his hands and  arms. Quickly Phil put the over-full tin down on the ground as if he'd been bitten and shook his hands to rid them of the excess petrol.

"Jesus you're clumsy!" he exploded looking down. "It's gone everywhere!"

"How was I to know it was building up inside?" Steve sulked, finding it hard to repress a snigger. It wouldn't be prudent to laugh out loud at Phil Norris, after all he was a second year Fifth Former and apart from that he was twice Steve's size. Twice the size with half the brain, thought Steve.

Phil shook his hands again but the petrol had already evaporated. "Mac always keeps a box of matches up here for candles if the power goes off." He stretched up to the shelf above the cream separator and fumbled round in the dust for a while and then triumphantly waved the box of matches at Steve. As he came down off the churn he shook them by his ear to check the contents. "Yeap! See, told ya!"

Steve had a funny feeling right then and there. A premonition if you like. Things were getting out of hand. There was Phil down on his hands and knees fumbling with frozen fingers to open a box of matches.

"Phil? Do you think this is safe?"

"Course it is." And with that he struck the match. The vapour coming off the small tin of petrol caught the flame in its grasp and flashed the whole lot in a tremendous whoosh and before they knew it the flames were snaking across the concrete floor following the trail of spilt petrol that had dribbled out of the hose from the forty-four gallon drum. The boys stood thunderstruck as the flames disappeared up the rubber hose, down the pump and into the steel container.

Like an idiot wakening from a dream Steve ran for the drum and began pumping like mad to try and flush the flames out. A fountain of flame shot out of the end sending a spreading stream of liquid lightning across the floor multiplying as it went.

"Grab the high pressure hose!" yelled Phil jumping up and down. Steve left the pump and raced for the huge fireman's hose that was used for cleaning the shed floor. After flicking on the power switch Steve yanked the nozzle over to the drum and heard the cracking protest of the canvas snake as water pressure surged through. Meanwhile Phil had unscrewed the pump and removed it from the top of the drum. Flames shot out the top hole, singed his hair and began curling themselves around the shed rafters. Without hesitation Steve rammed the hose into the opening and released the valve. Instantly the hose tightened, bucked and the heavy drum was rocked vigorously from side to side as the water screamed into it.

The water snuffed out the flames just as the shed roof was catching alight. Steve turned off the valve and both boys just stood there looking at each other breathing heavily. "Neat eh?" said Phil rather shakily, eyes wide.

"Yeah. Real neat!" Steve began to rewind the thick hose. The sarcasm wasn't lost on Phil. He's a pyromaniac, he thought.

"I'll put the hand pump back in the drum then," said Phil meekly. He knew they had only just escaped a catastrophe by a fraction.

"Yeah. You put the pump back in the drum," Steve mimicked, and as he glanced over his shoulder he added, "And you'd better hurry up because Mac's coming up the road." With the cows coming through the gate they jumped into busying themselves with the usual routines of milking. Through the next couple of hours though, all it needed was a surreptitious lift of the eyebrows to rekindle the memory of the near disaster. At seven when the milking was finished, Mac leaned back for a smoke and reached up for his hidden matches. Phil spotted him. "I'll get  'em!" he yelled, almost tripping over himself to get past.

"Okay! Okay!" said Mac. "No need to knock me over!"

A white-faced Phil went behind him and pretended to reach for the matches with his hand.

"They're... They're... not here," said Phil winking at Steve.

"Must be!" queried Mac. "There's always a box up there." He stood up.

"I'll bet those bloody Third-Formers have been down here for a smoke again," Steve said quickly and threw a grimace at Phil. "Bill Baker and his buddies are always looking for matches. I'll bet it's them." The boys held their breath hoping the story would hold.

"Bugger them!" said Mac under his breath and reluctantly returned the smoke to its packet.

Just then Mr Higgins, the farm manager, drove up on the tractor. "Mornin' Mac, milking finished for another day, eh?"

"Yeah. Got a match? I'm dying for a smoke." Higgins threw him a box and after getting off the tractor started hand-pumping, ‘petrol', into the fuel tank.

"Thanks!" said Mac and tossed back the matches. "You doing the feeding out today?"

"Yeap, lower paddocks today." He stopped pumping and recapped the tractor's petrol tank. "See you at lunchtime," he said and climbed onto the tractor to turn the key. The motor caught and before Higgins could get settled in the seat, it gave a strangled cry before it coughed, stuttered and died.

"Funny," said Higgins scratching his head and trying the starter again. Mac came round to see what the trouble was.

"We'd better be off for breakfast then!" called Phil pulling my sleeve and backing off down the road.

"Yeah, yeah," I echoed, stumbling after him. "The Head doesn't like us being late." And off they went at a gentle jog. On reaching the gate the two conspirators stopped and looked round just in time to see the two men lifting the bonnet of the tractor.

"Talk about close," sniggered Phil as he started to relax. But Steve wasn't about to let him off that easy. Not today anyway.

Steve used Phil's forward momentum to spin him round, looked at him hard and said wide-eyed, "What about Mac's matches?"

Phil stopped dead in his tracks thinking, trying to galvanise his brain into gear. "Hell, I left them on the floor when the drum went up," he replied the colour draining from his face. "They're still there."

"Too late to go back now," Steve said rubbing it in. "He's bound to find them when he cleans up. And what about the charred roof?"

"Oh shit!" Phil dropped his head and contemplated their doom as they trudged back to school. Steve didn't know what tortures were scattering around in Phil's brain all that day but he wasn't worried. In fact he whistled a tune as he patted the small, squarish bulge in his pocket.

Nothing was ever said about the mixed water and petrol but later that day Steve and Deighton had a great laugh at Phil's expense.

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Retired Principal originally from England but now resident in New Zealand for the past 55yrs

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