Chapter 1 - All Alone
Life’s not easy when you're a young ’un and the odds were set against you right from the moment you were born. I never met my Mother, she died giving me life and if that’s not bad enough my Father’s a highwayman. I spend most of my nights wide awake waiting for him to come home so I know that he’s safe.
It’s very dangerous being a highwayman, but Father’s never had much luck holding down a proper job. It’s the only way he knows how to get money to look after us. When he has a good night we eat like Kings, but if things have not gone well, the only sound I’ll hear will be the rumbling of my belly.
But we do alright for ourselves most of the time. We have somewhere to live, it’s not a palace but the landlords nice enough and not too greedy. We call it a house, but really it’s only a very large room with a couple of windows and a front door. It’s cosy enough when there is a fire going in the fireplace. We have a table and a couple of wooden boxes as chairs. Our neighbours are quite nice and keep their noses out of our business, which is handy with Father’s late night comings and goings.
But it’s been a rough couple of nights, been slim pickings on the highway and we haven’t had much food to eat. That’s why Father has gone out early tonight so that he has a few more hours to work. But working in the daylight brings its own risks too. It’s autumn and although it’s not really cold yet, it would feel colder if we didn’t have a roof over our heads.
I hope that Father doesn’t stay out too late. My belly is rumbling quite a lot tonight. My mouth is watering just thinking about all the food he could bring home. It’s starting to get dark, hopefully it will only be a few more hours. I shall try to get some sleep while I wait.
It is really dark now, I must have drifted off to sleep. I can’t hear Father, he must not be back yet. But it seems really late, I wonder where he could be ? Perhaps I should go out to look for him, but it’s really dark and Father said not to go out by myself. I’ll wait a little longer and see if he returns.
Father still has not returned and I’m getting quite worried. It’s light outside, it must be morning. My belly is grumbling so loudly, I must have something to eat soon.
Perhaps I should go look for him ? It’s daylight now, so it will be safer. He might be down the market buying food. The market is not far from our home, Father would not be too cross with me for going such a short journey. If he is not there, I will go straight home and wait some more.
The market is busy with all kinds of people, those that are here to sell and those that are here to buy. Some are here to do neither, these are the people that sneak about and steal what they can.
My belly is rumbling again, I wonder if the kindly looking lady at the fruit stall would spare me an apple if I asked nicely.
“Good Morning, I am so very hungry and I do not have any money but my Father will be sure to pay you when he gets home. Please, may I have one of your lovely apples ? ”
She turns to look at me and says
“Do you think that I am daft, be gone with you. I have paying customers to serve.”
Well, it looks like I won’t be getting anything from her. I’ll try the big man at the bread stall. No, he wasn’t friendly either. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get any help from the market people.
Maybe I’ll get help from someone in that large group of people over there. They are making a lot of noise, they seem to be making a fuss about something. If I get closer, I might be able to find out what’s going on.
“It’s true, I heard it from Mary. She said that he’d tried to rob a coach on the back road last night, but one of the passengers had a pistol and shot him dead. They took his body down to the big barn on the edge of town”
The big dark-haired man who spoke has left the group and disappeared into the crowd. I’ll stay a little longer and see if I can find out whose been shot.
The blond haired lady is crying and the lady next to her puts an arm around her for comfort. Through her tears she speaks.
“I hear he has a child, goodness only knows where that child is right now. I’ll bet they're alone and scared, they probably don’t even know their Father’s dead.”
She’s crying again.
“Poor George” she says and wipes away a tear and blows her nose.
“George who ?” A young man who has just joined the crowd is asking.
“George Banecroft” someone replies.
I can’t breathe, my head is spinning. My whole world has just come crashing down around me. I wish what I had just heard was from a distant dream, but it’s not...MY FATHER has been shot dead ?
My Father is never coming home, I am completely alone with no-one to look after me. What am I going to do ? My belly is grumbling really badly, I suppose that is the first thing I need to sort out, getting something to eat.
The people at the market are not going to help me unless I have some money, so I guess the only thing I can do is steal some food. I’ll grab some bread and some cheese, maybe even an apple, but I’ll have to be really careful, I don’t want to get caught....
The daring deed is done and I have eaten my stolen food. Now that my belly is full, I can think about what I should do. I believe the next thing I should probably do is go to the big barn on the edge of town to make sure it is my Father lying there.
I know where the barn is, I remember passing it with Father when we first came to this town a few years ago. We moved here to this little Yorkshire town from the small village in Cumberland where I was born.
Father was so hopeful when we arrived here. He was sure he would find a proper job, but at least he found us somewhere to live.
I will go to the big barn and find out for myself that it is my Father lying there. If I do not, I will always be hoping that he is going to return.
I walk towards the big barn doors, I feel very scared. On the other side of these doors is the answer to my question..Is it my Father who has been shot dead ? The door creaks as I open it, it is very dark inside the barn. I can just about see the long shape laying on the floor with a blanket covering it. That must be the man who was shot dead.
I edge closer to the body, not daring to look, I am hoping they are wrong and it will be someone else. I am close enough to touch the blanket now, and there is a strong smell in the air. I don't know what the smell is, but I do know that I don't like it.
I am so afraid to lift the blanket and see my Father's face. I really want it to be someone else. But I have to know for certain whether I'm truly on my own or not. I am shaking as I grasp the corner of the damp blanket and give it a quick pull away from the body. I instantly close my eyes, but I know I have to look.
I slowly open my eyes and look into the face of the man laid there. It feels like my chest will explode with the pain, and my eyes flood with tears as I recognise the face of the man I have known all my life.
"Father ? " I stroke his cheek hoping it might stir him but his cheek is cold and stiff to the touch. I now know that he really is dead. I put the blanket back over his face, I do not wish to see him anymore.
I am not yet hungry, but I know that I will be later. I must go get some food from somewhere and take it home. Maybe after some food and a nights sleep, I will be able to figure out what to do.
I will go back to the market and try to steal some more bread and cheese. It is not a very long walk back to town from the barn, but I have time to wipe the tears from my face.
It is quieter now at the market than it was earlier. This will make it difficult to steal anything unnoticed. But suddenly from under the vegetable seller's stall comes a large rat with a small Brussels sprout in its mouth, it is closely followed by an angry scrawny looking cat.
Luckily, for me, this causes such a commotion that I am able to get my bread and cheese without being seen. I must go home now, I would rather not be wandering around when it gets dark. The streets are dangerous at night.
I arrive home and set about getting the fire lit in the fireplace. It will be dark soon, and I will need a fire to keep me warm, to toast my bread and to make me a warm drink. I still have some tea leaves, but unfortunately no milk. It will keep me warm though and help my toast and cheese go down.
Now that I have had my supper, I am feeling really sleepy. It has been a long night and day, and I am ready for my bed. I curl up in front of the fire and cover myself with my blanket.