Elen often said to me “Go to bed and sleep it out. It’ll all look different in the morning.”
She was right, it always did.
There’s an old Highlander saying, a new dawn is a new day. When the sun rises it shines light on hidden places and causes new shadows on others. At the moment the sun peaks over the horizon the day is a new beginning with no mistakes yet made. In our case a new dawn was more than a new day, our new beginning was a new life. This is how I knew we’d done the right thing in running away, because with this new day and this new life we hadn’t made any mistakes yet. The slate was clear.
We walked a long time, through the local village and on further. It was in the predawn light that a distant clip clop vanquished the silence before even the birds dared sing.
We looked back and saw a shape on the road in the far distance, because sound travels very far when it it not quite yet day. Frankie spun around.
“This way.” She said and started walking towards the source of the noise.
“But why? I asked her, jogging a little to catch up. “Why are we going back?”
“We’re not. But what if they’re looking for us? Two little girls out at this time so far from the last village, what else could we be but runaways? Now when we get in hearing range I want you to argue that we should go back, that you’re tired and your feet are sore, but when he gets closer I’ll do most of the talkin’”
So when the milk cart, for that was what approached, was closer I did just that. Frankie hushed me as the milk cart pulled up beside us.
“What are you two young ones doin’ out so early on the road?” he asked.
“Nothin’!” Frankie answered a little too quickly. The man narrowed his eyes at us and after a moment’s hesitation she gave in.
“We-ell.. Freddy Parkins next door has a cousin what runned away to the big city and he wrote a letter back sayin’ how wonderful it was so we thought we’d a-go and join him but someone—” Her she glared at me “Is gettin’ tired feet already!” I could tell Frankie was exaggerating her accent to make her seem more common and naive than she actually was. I looked down at my shoes remembering all the times she’d laughed at my “posh” accent below stairs. I couldn’t do a passable job on an accent in close quarters so I kept my mouth shut.
“So, runnin’ away was a great idea, was it” The man asked.
“Well…” Frankie screwed up her face.
“If yer caught missin’ at dawn your mistress will have the constable after ye! An’ the furst person they’ll ask is yours truly.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t tell?” Frankie asked. “Only even if we turn back now we’ll be too late, we’ve been walkin’ ages!”
“Git yerselves up on back an’ I’ll give ye a lift back and they’ll be none the wiser an’ we won’t have another word said.” The man said to us.
So Frankie and I did as we were told.
It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, on an old cart amongst the milk but at least it was better than walking!
“He delivers the milk.” Frankie whispered to me, letting the noise of the cart mask her voice from the man. “Then the local milkmen will collect it and take it round. The men who deliver the milk always see anyone on the roads just before dawn so they’re often asked about all sorts of runaways. This way he thinks he’s takin’ us home!”
“I’d never have thought of that!” I whispered back.
“Well, don’t congratulate me yet, we’ve only gotten away, we haven’t found a safe place to bide our time yet!”
We arrived at our location just as the sun was rising. Our driver left us at the main street after a promise from us to return to our mistress then he went to offload his milk.
I looked around. The main street was waking up already. People were outside their shops setting out their wares and a few early customers were hurrying about their wares.
“Is this a good place to stay?” I asked. “Far enough away but close enough to go back?”
“I think so.” Frankie said.
“Then we need to find a place to stay.” I said. “And then some work… how does one go about finding work?”
Frankie sighed. “No, we can’t find lodgings until we have work. An’ don’t mention it being only temporary . A good lodger is a reliable one, one who makes little fuss, earns an honest and regular wage and will pay it week after week.”
“Well, lets find honest work then. How does one go about it? What do we need to do?”
“Find someone with work that needs doin’. They’ll also want someone who ain’t about to skip town—”
“So don’t go telling them it’s only temporary either?”
“No, we don’t. Even if their work is only for a few days they’d rather that be on their terms so best make them think we’re here to stay a while.”
“What’s the best way to do that?”
“Well, to have an address for a start.”
“But you said—”
“I know what I said! Now lets take a look around, eyes and ears open.”
We walked down the main street, past a servant talking to the butcher past the grocer and the grocer’s boy. Past the two street urchins whose game had been put on pause while they helped a third boy catch a chicken. There was a lady outside the drapers who frowned at us and a man setting out books outside a small, dark store.
“What do ye think yers doin’?” We spun at the cross voice but it wasn’t addressed to us but rather at a young man and woman who’d been enjoying each other’s company just outside the local on the corner.
“Oh, hello Mrs B.” The man said. “Top o’ the mornin’ an’ all tha’”
“Yer jist shut yer blitherin’” She said, pulling the man away from the girl.
“Mornin’ Mrs Beats.” The young woman said.
“An don’t yer mornin’ me either. Dallyin’ on the street wi’ some boy washed in on the last tide?”
“Oh Mrs B. I’m more than tha’!” The young man protested. “Sides, she’s my sweet girl, Molly ain’t she!”
“It’s not proper!” The old woman scolded. “I run a reputable establishment, I should ‘ave known ye was no a no good gel when I took you in, no better than ye should be if you ask me! I won’t ‘ae people says I tooks in harlots ff the streets. Ye can be findin’ another place to sleep me girly because there won’t be a room in my house fur ye tonight!”
“Who wants to stay in your old boardin’ ‘ouse anyway?” The young woman yelled back. “There’s rats, an’ those that run on four legs as well! There’s room in the pub for me, until Jim finds a place, that is! He’s my young man!”
“Well I won’t ‘ave that behaviour under my roof so yer better clear out your things before tonight! I won’t ‘ave it that I won’t!” The grumpy old woman stormed off leaving the young lovers giggling.
“Well!” I said.
“They’re often like that.” Frankie said. “It’s cos they can be held responsible for the immorality of their lodgers, if they’re young. But youknow what this means?”
“What?” I asked.
“Lodgings that want fillin’”
“Lodgings first then?”
“No, but we could have an address to give to an employer, come on!”
We followed the woman across the street and watched to see what house she entered.
It was a small, dark house with the entrance set back from the rest of the row making it seem all the more dismal.
“Well, it’s as good as can be expected.” Frankie said. “Come on, lets see if we can find work.”
We turned and continued our way down the street.
Only temporary. I told myself. Only temporary. Soon Jo and Henri could help us and in the meantime I just had to keep on going.