The Road to Redway (Pt.8)
Old Joe Baxter
Old Joe Baxter’s character appeared in the first Redway book as a neighbour in a ramshackle cottage down the lane who Helena would visit and assist. At first, he was called Dom Baxter, but when a song came to mind (see below), I had to change his name to Joe, and a Redway stableman I’d named Joe became Dom.
I added a scene to Helena’s original book to include George, her grandfather, being crushed to death by Perseus. Consequently, she visited Joe to reminisce about George, he was Joe’s long-time friend, and they discussed his wish for Helena to marry.
Helena sighed. “I do not want to marry. Grandfather knew that. I have John—”
“John canna move in the circles George cud. Fa’ll his rolled-up sleeves an’ muckin’ in with tha men, George was a gen’leman. He wer a rare breed tha’ cud mix in both circles. Same as you. Mebbe, ya’ll find a man like tha’?”
“Only today, I have become an independent woman. Why would I give that up? Why would I marry and give myself and everything I have to a husband?”
Joe picked up the third glass of whisky he had poured and tipped it towards her in a salute once again. “Here’s to ya, Gal. Find yaself a man, either ta marry ya or to manage ya. If he be brave a nuff, p’haps both, an’ Gawd bless ‘im. He’ll need it.”
When I wrote the sermon for Mr. Brooks after his verbal entanglement with Helena at that first dinner party, I had the idea that Nathaniel would gather some men to work on Joe’s cottage. However, whilst Nathaniel’s initial thought was to help, another motivation spurred him on when he saw the state of Joe’s place. They discuss it when they ride on Thor to the tavern.
“I will not have Mrs. Andrews break her neck visiting you,” Nathaniel spoke in a clipped tone that brooked no argument.
“You ain’t gonna win ‘er over telling ‘er wat ta do, boi.”
Nathaniel laughed. “And what makes you think I want to win her over?”
“Ya a man, ain’t ya? Wat man wouldn’t? She’s special, that ‘un. Like my Bertha. Ya tha on'y man she's ever spoke about ta me.”
Nathaniel smiled in surprise. “Am I now? What did she say about me?”
Joe tightened his arms and gave him a little shake. “Don’ go soundin’ so smug o’er it. She wer angry. Said ya think ya ah so ‘andsome an’ charmin’ an’ can tell us all wha’ ta do.”
“She thinks I am handsome?”
“If tha’s the on’y thing ya lernt from wat I just said, ya don’ stand a chance, boi.”
“And charming too?” Nathaniel’s smile broadened into a grin
In the background of the main story, Joe tried to get Helena and Nathaniel together. He directed Nathaniel to deal with the independent Helena while working on her bending a little and accepting Nathaniel, knowing it would lead to Helena’s happiness.
After she blurted out to Nathaniel’s father about her marrying his son, even though she had already refused Nathaniel, she turned to Joe in despair, sure that Lord Aysthill would have written to Nathaniel about it. Only Joe’s deep-rooted loyalty to George made him reveal a very personal secret.
“Ya’ve fair broke this lad’s ‘eart, Helena. He’s a good ‘un, an all.”
“He is a good ‘un, Joe. The best ‘un. If I marry him, he will own everything. What if he turns out like his father after we marry?” She shuddered at the thought.
“Ya can’t hurt ‘im a second time,” Joe reasoned.
“What am I to do, Joe? What would you do?”
He looked at her kindly. “I never could get Bertha ta marry me.”
She was astounded. “But you were husband and wife and had children together.”
“Well, as far as we wer cuncerned, we wer. I loved tha’ woman, like I ‘ad never loved another afore, and never since. I made a vow to ‘er in me ‘eart, and she did tha same ta me. We never needed no church, or law, to say wha’ we wer ta each other. That made no never mind. Gawd could see in our ‘earts that we wer man an’ wife. What more matter’d?”
In turn, Nathaniel sought out Joe’s council after being held prisoner in France. First, under the influence of some of Harker’s whisky, Nathaniel talks of his experiences. Then, as gently as is possible for Joe, he pushes Nathaniel towards the idea he has already given Helena.
“Now ya ‘ave experienced loss of ya free will, would ya give it up agin? Fer anyone?”
Would he give up his loss of will to marry Helena, which is what she would have to do to marry him? Never to have it back in the eyes of the law? “No.”
“Not even ta be married ta a woman like ‘er?”
“No. Not forever, which is how long I want to be with her.”
Joe smiled, nodding. “Ah, now, Helena. Known ‘er since she wer’ seven. As headstrong and stubborn then as she is now. Put me in mind o’ me Bertha tha’ one. With a woman like tha’, a man takes what she’s willin’ ta give ya, and no complaining mind, cos she’s worth it.”
“That’s just the problem, Joe. I don’t know what she is willing to give me, or whether it will be enough.”
“Enough, eh? Ask yaself this. If ya wer’ ta list everything ya want from ‘er, and then list everythin’ ya are willin’ ta give up for ‘er, wud tha scales balance?”
“I don’t have property to match Redway,” Nathaniel explained, his hands outstretched.
Joe slammed his empty glass down on the table. “Ah, boi, as usual, ya ain’t listenin’ roight. I’m not talkin’ bout Redway. I’m sayin’ wha’ ar’ ya willin’ ta give up fer ‘er? If ya not willin’ ta give up ya free will, ya can’t expect ‘er to, can ya?”
Joe never got to see the fruits of his labour, although he knew the couple planned to elope and come back married. When Nathaniel and Helena did return, it was to the news that Joe was dead.
When I decided on that part of the storyline, I asked my mum if I could put her song, Poor Old Joe, into my book. She was delighted, and the lyrics and the sheet music appear in my book. Helena sings it at Joe’s funeral.
Poor Old Joe
Copyright Gal Junie (sung by Trish Butler if you can bear it!)
Gal Junie based the song on an older man who used to turn up in a pub where she worked—as genial as he was, everyone turned their noses up at him. However, in the village of Eastcambe, Joe wasn’t entirely ostracised and became more accepted when Nathaniel brought the villagers together to work on Joe’s cottage.
Because he died in the first book, you might think that would be the end of Old Joe in the Redway series, but as book six is a prequel, we meet Young Joe further down The Road to Redway.