Meet the inhabitants of an isolated farming community: the young woman about to be married; her aunts, one who misses her friend in the mental hospital, another struggling to care for her simpleton son. Suffer with her young brother Henry as he tries desperately to evade his pursuers. The events of this Summer Day will change a small rural community for ever.
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Bess, a Welsh Collie sheepdog is old and ailing. Jack, her owner, has decided it is time to put her down. His young son, Henry, in trying to prevent this, causes the gun to go off injuring Jack. Believing that he is responsible for his father's death, Henry runs away, taking Bess with him. Thus begins what could turn out to be the last day of Henry's young life.
The setting is a hill farm on the border between England and Wales on a summer day in 1947. The story follows Henry's increasingly desperate attempts to evade capture and the inept and amateurish efforts of family and neighbours to find him and explain that his father's injuries are not life threatening and that no-one holds him responsible.
Each member of the family has his or her own fears and worries for the future and these influence their behaviour throughout the long sultry day as storm clouds gather. Henry's older brother, Cecil, wants to have a bigger say in management of the farm; like his mother, his sister Margery is preoccupied with planning her forthcoming marriage. His aunts too have problems that demand attention.
Assorted professionals have their own distorted view of the family and of Henry: the family Doctor, the district nurse, the vicar, the school teacher. Henry meanwhile faces an increasing number of set-backs and injuries which lead him to make a near fatal decision. Rescue finally comes from a surprising quarter.
He struggles to tie the knot. His hands will not obey him. They hurt.
Maintaining a firm footing on the pile of rubble is hard too. He dare not place too much weight on his right foot with its swollen ankle and his left foot keeps wobbling on the edge of a half brick as he reaches up to where the end of the string hangs down from the branch. That at least will make his final act easy.
He hears the sound of an approaching car. Reinforcements! They have come … to assist in the search and to arrest him. From his position here behind the building he cannot see what is happening but he can hear voices.
Suddenly he sees his Aunt Ann stumbling across the orchard toward the privy. His big sister Margery is there. There are other people too. The men are not wearing uniforms. ... A tall stranger appears from the side of the building. That must be the Detective Inspector …
He must hurry. Soon they will turn this way and see him. He tests the knot. It works. He places the loop around his neck and kicks the loose half brick away …