The Rise of Tom Percent

By Ron Waywell

My grandfather came from Yorkshire farming stock and was quite a character. I remember he was fond of telling stories about the old days when farmers used to hire their labourers daily from a gathering on the village green.

There was one widowed farmer in particular who, childless and growing old and feeble, was looking for someone with initiative and intelligence to run his small farm. So he devised a test to which he subjected each daily labourer, most of whom were illiterate. All failed until Caleb Henshaw arrived in the village. He was a skilled man who had lost his own land through a series of misfortunes and he desperately needed work.

The farmer hired Caleb for the day and showed him round his property, applying his test at the same time.

Pointing to the hayrick in the farmyard, he said, "I call that, Little Cocky Mountain, and that—" pointing to the farmyard pump "—The Resurrection."

He then led Caleb into the kitchen where a black-and-white cat was sitting in front of the fire.

"I call that," said the farmer, pointing to the cat, "The White-Faced Simian, and that—" pointing to the fire "—Otti Cologne."

He then took Caleb upstairs into the bedroom where a pair of corduroy trousers was folded over the bedstead.

"I call that," went on the farmer, pointing to the bed, "The Easy Degree, and those—" pointing to the trousers "—my Fartycracks."

"Now, Caleb," the farmer finally said. "My name is Tom Percent. I shall give you work for the day, and you can spend the night in the small hut behind the barn. If, tomorrow morning, you can come to me and repeat all those names, I shall consider giving you permanent employment."

The next morning Caleb rose bright and early, before the farmer had left his bed, and entered the farm kitchen to make himself some tea. The cat was sleeping in front of the banked-up fire, but as Caleb went to close the door against the draught, a red-hot coal fell from the fire onto the cat's back. The cat let out a howl and, fur blazing, dashed out of the open door. Caleb followed it just in time to see it disappear under some loose straw at the base of the hayrick.

In no time at all the rick was ablaze, but Caleb was equal to the occasion. Snatching up a bucket from the kitchen, he filled it with water from the pump in the yard and extinguished the fire before it could take hold. He then went back to the kitchen and called up the stairs, "Rise, Tom Percent from the Easy Degree. Put on thy Fartycracks and come down to see. White-faced Simian' s run away with Otti Cologne, run under Little Cocky Mountain—and if it hadn't been for The Resurrection, we'd have all been burnt to death."

Tom Percent had found his man.

Copyright 2002, Ron Waywell

About the Author

Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.

Ron Waywell passed away at the age of 86 in 2008.

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