Mellors wakes up suddenly, the transition from sleep to full wakefulness abrupt and almost painful.
He’s covered in sweat and his skin feels so hot he touches it, expecting to find it burning and surprised by its cool clammy feel. His nostrils seem to be filled with the stench of smoke, of wood and grass burning, but the room is quiet, with the Blouseman sleeping peacefully by his side and the cats curled up in a furry ball at the foot of the bed.
So what’s wrong? He knows something is wrong...
Walker stirs, immediately aware of the gamekeeper's movement. He stretches and opens his eyes, blinking and trying to focus on his face. He can see the confusion - and when he reaches out to touch his face, can feel the cold sweat on Mellors' skin. Now Walker's properly awake, alarm bells ringing in his head. "What is it?" he asks, voice low and scratchy from sleep. "What's wrong, gamekeeper?"
"Don't know... A bad dream... There was smoke and fire..." Still shivering, Mellors takes a deep breath and looks around, as if to reassure himself of his whereabouts.
"I keep smelling something burning, Blouseman, and it's like the trees are screaming at me that they need me.. I'm sorry I woke you up, but I won't be able to sleep unless I go out and make sure that everything is as it should be.." he says, getting up and reaching for his clothes.
"An' I'm comin' with you," Walker replies, sliding out of bed and picking up his jeans from the back of the chair. What the gamekeeper said about the trees has scared him and his heart's racing but he tries to seem calm. He pulls on his jeans and sweater and smiles. "I won't do nothin' but worry if I don't..."
Mellors clasps Walker's arm in silent thanks as the feeling of danger, of something wrong with the trees, keeps rising inside him, bitter and burning.
It may be nothing, just a nightmare, no more, but as they get dressed the cats also wake up, their eyes alert and their fur bristling. The two man stand still as they see this and exchange a meaningful glance.
"Let's go," Mellors whispers to Walker, his voice urgent. "I'll get my shotgun..."
Walker nods, but says nothing. He's never seen Mellors like this before - or the cats - and his mouth is dry with apprehension as he follows the gamekeeper out of the door. For once, the cats seem to sense they have to stay where they are and don't try and sneak past Walker's legs as he pulls the door shut. Only when he gets outside does he feel the unnatural heat in the air.
"Looks like you were right," he whispers as they set off along the path into the woods
"A fire..." Mellors nods and his eyes narrow as he tries to place where the fire is exactly and what is their best option. It must the thicket of old birches, poachers have lighted small fires there before... It's too far from any water source for them to be able to put out the fire that way...
"Let's get a couple of brooms from the tool shed, if the fire is where I think it is, the only thing we can do is keep it from wandering and let the area burn out.."
Now the smell of smoke is more obvious and Walker tastes adrenaline in his mouth as he turns to look at Mellors. "Yeah," he murmurs, grabbing Mellors' arm. "But I'll get 'em, gamekeeper - you go ahead an' let... let the trees know you're there - okay?" He smiles, squeezing Mellors' arm.
"Thank you," Mellors says softly, wrapping his arms around Walker in a quick, fierce hug before heading further up into the woods.
He can feel the trees, calling and screaming, he can feel the pain of the ones that are burning and the grief and fear of the ones that are at risk from the fire.
The fire is where he expected. The old birch trees, dry as they are, have gone up like a torch, sending sparks flying into the night and spreading the fire to the nearby undergrowth. If they can control that, the fire won't spread.
Walker runs barefoot back down the path towards the source of the heat and light and smoke. In each hand he's carrying a besom broom made of birch twigs secured to an ash handle and again, he can taste the adrenaline in his mouth. With a sighs of relief he sees Mellors and approaches quickly, but his sense of relief soon turns to horror when he sees the old birch thicket consumed by fire. The warm breeze is fanning the flames and Walker isn't sure they will be able to control this.
"Good..." Mellors grabs one of the brooms and stops a moment to give the Blouseman a quick but reassuring smile.
"It will be all right; with the brooms we'll be able to keep the fire in here, where it will burn itself out. I'll see to keeping it hemmed in, you take care of putting out any stray spark flying from here. You're barefoot, I don't want you to get burned..."
He looks up at the whispering branches and repeats: "It will be all right..."
Walker puts the kettle on to boil and sits down opposite Mellors at the table. He smiles and reaches out to rub a sooty smudge from the gamekeeper's cheek. "Well, I reckon the woods will be thankin' you right now, gamekeeper," he says softly. "Don't know what state the place would be in if you hadn't dreamed it was happenin'." He peers at Mellors, his brow furrowing in concern. "You feelin' alright, love? You were in the smoke for a real long time..."
"I am all right, just my throat feeling a bit raw and some blisters on me fingers. But it was scary, Blouseman. Not because of the fire itself, though I'm sad that those trees have gone, it is the way I seemed to know that something was happening in the woods, something bad, even while I was asleep..."
Shaking his head, puzzled at the strength of the bond he has with the woods, Mellors reaches out to smooth with blackened fingers the worried frown on Walker's forehead.
"Things are all right again, the trees are quiet now... They're grieving, but the death of some will bring new life to others..."