Mary Patterson set out the dishes and spoons on the newly scrubbed table. Supper would be just salt and pepper soup, some of the stale bread Widow Sutton had given her and whatever the children brought back from their scavenging. There wouldn’t be much. The autumn berries and fruits weren’t yet ripe and the summer’s were over. Albert might have trapped a bird if they were lucky – as long as Lord Brampton hadn’t seen him.
It was getting late. Where were they?
The fire was ready for the cooking-pots and it was beginning to get dark. They’d been out a long time so they would be hungrier than ever. However much they’d brought would not be enough.
Maybe I should do as Lord Brampton asked, she thought. He had said that if she gave herself to him whenever the fancy took him he would see that she and her family would never starve. It was probably too late, now, anyway. After five children and another one on the way her looks had faded.
Albert had never objected. He’d said it was up to her. But she didn’t want to do it and she suspected, or at least hoped, he was pleased.
Now, though, with the hunger months here again …
She heard them. Robbie was squealing with excitement, Trudy was singing, and Albert was whistling.
Peter ran in through the door, closely followed by Fran and Davey. “Ma, I got him with my catapult. Look what a big fat bird he is.”
Mary gawped at the animal in his hands. “If Lord Brampton finds out…”
“He won’t unless we tell him. Anyway, it was an accident, wasn’t it Peter? You don’t know what you’re doing with that slinger.” He ruffled his son’s hair. “Not such a good shot as his old dad, though eh?” He pulled out two more partridges from behind his back and grinned.
“Oh, Albert,” whispered Mary.
“And we found some windfalls on the ground,” said Fran, handing her mother six wood-hard pears.
“They’ll cook up all right, won’t they love?” Albert slipped an arm around his wife’s waist.
Mary nodded. The baby kicked so hard then that Albert felt it as well. They both laughed. The hunger months were on hold for a while yet and they’d scored twice against old Brampton.
“It’s like Christmas come early,” said Davey.