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Friday, September 13, 2013

Slight of Hand - 4.2

The next morning, there were more gifts. Needle, fine white thread, a bolt of gray wool, another of brown, some white linen, scented soap, oil for the lanterns, and three pairs of what must have been young boys’ riding boots. The boots were used, but still in good shape, just broken in; the leather was decent and the footbeds were comfortable and warm. Rees and Lily set immediately to making a new dress for each of them. Annabel was ecstatic over the boots.

            Again, the day after, there was more: a basket of corn, one of potatoes, one of green beans. There was cornmeal, a crockery jar of butter, and a glass jar of jam. It was strawberry – Rees stuck a finger in and tasted it. There were oats, too. And tied to the porch rail, bleating, was a female goat, with a white kid scampering around her feet. Which meant they would have milk. Lastly, propped against the door, was a broom; Rees took it to the cobwebs and the accumulated dust on the floor immediately. They walked the goat and her baby around to the empty barn, shook down some dusty straw for a bed, fed her a handful of oats; Annabel ripped up handfuls of fresh sweet grass for her. And Rees milked her. It was the first time they’d had milk in four weeks.

            The following day brought ammunition. More bacon. And three warm wool jackets, fraying at the sleeves, but well-made and warm, with all their buttons.

            That afternoon, some two hours before night fall, while she was milking the goat – Annabel had named her Millie – Lily heard a shot out in the forest and came into the kitchen slopping milk and talking breathlessly about highwaymen.

            Rees knew better. She went to the door and propped herself in the frame, watching the road, waiting. She had food in her kitchen, a new dress half-made laying across the bed, and a confidence that she knew who’d been hunting in the woods around the house. It wasn’t five minutes before two silhouettes presented themselves at the top of the road, backlit by waning golden sunlight. Her chest tightened and she realized, with a jolt, it was the first time she’d been glad to see anybody…in a very long time.

            Liam and Theo took shape as the sun started its fast slide behind the horizon. They stopped at the foot of the porch steps. Both were in their oilskin coats, both carrying rifles, just as they had almost a week ago. But they didn’t inspire fear this time. Liam had tied his hair up in a knot at the back of his head. Theo had a dead pheasant slung over his shoulder.

            “We brought dinner,” he said, and Rees caught his fast scrap of a smile, the little flash of teeth.

            She heeled the door wide behind her. A small voice in the back of her head told her to be cautious. In her experiences, men did nothing out of plain kindness. There was always some other reason. Always something more they wanted. But if that was the world she lived in, she had to take chances; better to take a chance on the bearers of goats and chickens, than on anyone else. “Won’t you come in?”

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