Robbie chuckled quietly. “No, not now. I’ll hide some warm clothing in the hedge this evening and some food to take with us in a cloth bag. Are you able to sneak out at night? I’ll do that when everybody is asleep and wait here, it’s going to be a full moon and no rain so if you’re careful you can walk across the fields and I’ll meet you here. If you don’t come, I’ll try again each night until I find you here.” Robbie followed the hedge line far away from their meeting place and resumed his work in the fields.
Colleen returned to Mikey through the hedge. “Are you going to go away with him?” Mikey looked at her unhappily.
She froze. “Did you hear our conversation Mikey?” He nodded.
“Then I want you to forget what you heard Mikey. When I’m gone Dar will be asking a lot of questions to everyone and he’ll ask if you know anything. What will you tell him Mikey?”
“I’ll say I don’t know anything, but I’ll probably cry a lot when you’re gone. Will you ever come back?”
“I don’t know Mikey, but I’ll always love you and if Dar ever forgives me then I hope you’ll find me and tell me so I can visit you all again. I don’t know where we’re going though. Come on, let’s go home as Ma will be waiting for us to have supper.”
And so that night Colleen tripped her way across their meadows feeling sad she’d probably never see them, or her family again. When she reached the hedge she felt her way through and gave a low whistle which was answered by a bird call close by. They held each other for a few moments.
“Are you sure you want to do this Colleen?”
“Aye,” she whispered nodding her head in the dark.
“Then tie this bundle around my shoulders and I’ll tie a bundle around yours. That will be the easiest way to carry our supplies.
People were asleep as they made their way through the quiet village and followed the road toward the mountains walking all night. They walked through the next day leaving the road to pretend they worked in the fields when they saw any horse drawn wagons approaching from in front or behind. It would not be wise to hitch a ride and be engaged in conversation. In rural areas unusual sightings are shared between villages for miles. At times they’d camp by farm haystacks burying their provisions and themselves for much needed rest. Then they’d plod on through nights into the mountains through countless small settlements until at last one morning they caught the sight of the sea again and headed for the coast with eager steps. Eventually exhausted and out of food they came to a cliff face overlooking the ocean and sat down to think through their need for rest, shelter and food.
While they were relaxing and watching gulls over the sea, they caught sight of an old woman struggling up a steep path from the ocean below. She’d been harvesting shellfish and kelp and was struggling under her load. Robbie leaped to his feet and ran to help the woman who gazed at them both with curiosity. She spoke to them in a dialect they didn’t recognize, then with a shrug pointed them to a neat whitewashed home perched on the hill above them. Robbie left his load with Colleen and bent while the woman loaded her prizes on his back smiling gratefully. He panted up the hill wondering how this frail looking old lady managed such loads on that steep path to the sea. He arranged the off load under her pointed direction. Then she pointed down the hill to Colleen and indicated they both should come to the house.
When Colleen entered the house the woman greeted her enthusiastically and took her hand, she then drew her hand up closer so she could examine it and smiled commenting in her dialect. She pointed to the picture of a church on the wall and then at Colleen’s hand. Colleen blushed in embarrassment and the woman nodded. She left the room and returned with something in her hand indicating Colleen should show her hand once more then she slid a ring on Colleen’s wedding finger and it was a perfect fit. The old woman smiled happily and Colleen hugged the old woman in gratitude. The ring would show the world she and Robbie were man and wife. She began to cry contrasting the ill treatment she’d received in her own home with the kindness of this woman.
The woman then indicated they follow her again and took them to a spacious second bedroom, obviously not used for a long time. The old woman hugged them both and went back to the kitchen to work.
Robbie and Colleen sat on the bed and looked at each other. They were bone tired and the bed looked so welcoming. But it was clean, and they were dirty from several days on the road sleeping in haystacks. Robbie went to the kitchen and motioned the act of washing and the woman nodded then wiping her hands on her apron led him to the back of the house to an outside washing place which doubled from the washing of bodies to the washing of clothes. She pointed to the buckets and then to a well at the side of the washhouse and then indicated homemade soaps she’d crafted artistically. Then she returned to her work in the kitchen.
Robbie went back inside to collect Colleen explaining what the woman had showed him in sign language. He was however beginning to catch some of the words the woman occasionally spoke. It was their language but heavily accented, so they couldn’t understand unless they concentrated hard. He drew water from the well and left it for Colleen and then embarrassed retreated until she’d finished her bath. She emerged smelling of the scented soap with wet flowing hair and went to their room to find Robbie in her one change of clothes bought with her. He looked at her with pride. Maybe they’d not been churched but with a wedding ring on her finger he considered them married. However, he was puzzled about what he should do next to confirm their marriage. She was a precious jewel he’d prize forever and that meant respect for her as a woman. He went to the washroom to think things through. Eloping was one thing, but where did it go from there?
He’d just finished soaping himself and was reaching for the rinse bucket when he heard Colleen’s voice nearby and doused himself quickly reaching for a towel to wrap around him. He was still self-conscious about the relationship between men and women. It was one thing to go skinny dipping in mixed company in the village river when children but in approaching teens there were strict taboos placed on bathing together in the village. He felt uncomfortable having Colleen in such proximity when he was bathing. She called out that the old woman was waiting to serve food, and could he please hurry, then she left.
Robbie quickly dressed in clean clothes and presented himself at the kitchen where the old woman indicated he should sit next to Colleen while she served. They wolfed down their fish and potatoes with assorted greens taken from the garden. Both left the table and hugged the old woman in turn. She in turn placed her hands on each head and intoned in her dialect something which each interpreted as a prayer.
For a while the new couple wondered and waited for someone to come and possess the room they’d been blessed with but as each day they began to decipher the dialect the old woman spoke it became apparent her husband had died not long previous to their visit, and the children one by one had left seeking their fortunes on distant shores never to be heard from again. They understood the woman was in her own way adopting them in replacement of her own lost family and they responded to her love with love in return.
Robbie busied himself in mending fencing and broken-down gates, retrieving animals that had gone wild after escaping the confines of that property and preparing ground the hard way for seasonal crops. Colleen helped around the home and took on responsibility for that steep track to the ocean below to collect items that drifted in or were useful for food. The nearest village was a half day walk into the mountain from their home so the only visitors they had were occasional fishermen who came to the beach below to camp overnight and return to the other side where the land met the sea and had no cliffs.
To be continued.
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