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The Proposition  by Lindelea

Chapter 6.

And so it went. They’d need to learn to do what needed to be hidden from prying eyes, behind the half-open doors of the bedroom (once the window was taken care of) and the pantry (late at night, after forming shapes in the beds if need be, though perhaps that was a bit of over-preparation, considering that shutters would close off the bedroom windows at night).

They’d need to be independent of their neighbours, and not count on being able to purchase needed items in the marketplace (“Though if what we think is going to happen actually happens, then no body is going to be able to buy much on market day in days to come,” Ferdi said). Oh, if there were a fire, or another emergency of some sort, their neighbours would still respond out of the goodness of their hearts (Rosemary placed her hand on the babe once more. This would make the upcoming birth that much more difficult. Perhaps Hally could deliver their baby, and there’d be no need to call the midwife…?) …but she took a steadying breath, nodded, and took up her mug of tea once more.

‘And when I come in middle night,’ Ferdi said, ‘on the day after I see your washing hanging on the line, or if it is a day of rain, I’ll look to see you stirring the laundry in the tub at the very least, to make sure it’s the right day…’

Rosemary and Hally nodded.

‘I’ll scratch upon your door, like this,’ and he scratched upon the table, in what sounded like a random pattern of sounds, but then he repeated it twice more, and on the last repetition, he recited the words of a song to the rhythm of scratching. ‘You see?’ he said. ‘If you hear me “play” this song…’

‘We’ll know it’s you at the door,’ Hally nodded. ‘And won’t need to go calling, “Who’s there,” loud enough for any passing ruffian to hear.’

‘You have the right of it,’ Ferdi said. ‘And you won’t need to take the turned-down lamp from the window, and I’ll be able to steal within, and hide in the bedroom, behind the half-closed door.’

‘We’ll have to teach the children to stay out,’ Rosemary said in sudden realisation. So many details to cover! ‘I’ll think of some reason or other – that I want to keep them out of the store of Birthday presents, or some such…’

‘Nothing that Lotho’s Men might want to search for, and gather,’ Ferdi warned.

‘No, you’re right, it’ll have to be something else,’ Rosemary said. ‘We’ll just have to have a rule that children are not allowed to play in Mama and Papa’s room, for we must have someplace to call our own and not the children’s, I suppose.’

Ferdi nodded. ‘All but the babe,’ he said. ‘For it’s your usual custom to keep the babe in your room, until it's old enough to sleep in a bed with its brothers or sisters…’

‘Yes, “as usual”,’ Rosemary said with a sigh. She suspected she was going to grow to hate the phrase, but there was nothing else for it.

At last they’d covered everything that they could think of. In only an hour, two at most, the stars would begin to fade in the sky, and the sky would brighten, and Ferdi must be well away by then, and in a safe place where he could hide away the daylight hours.

They stood up from the table. ‘All this must be cleared away,’ Ferdi warned, ‘and the cloth replaced, before you take yourselves to bed.’

‘As always,’ Hally acknowledged. He seized Ferdi’s hand, pressed it hard. ‘Be careful,’ he said. ‘It sounds like you’ve been taking some awful risks, lately.’

Ferdi pressed Hally’s hand in return. ‘I’m not the only one,’ he said. ‘And I won’t be in future, either,’ he added with a meaningful look. ‘Someday, perhaps, they’ll know what we’ve done, what you’ve done, and they’ll make a song out of it.’

‘Such songs are always made of the nastiest, most uncomfortable experiences, I’m afraid,’ Rosemary said, peering into her brother’s face as if she might memorise his features.

Releasing Hally’s hand, Ferdi circled her with his arms, carefully, as if he feared to press too hard upon the burgeoning babe, and rested his chin against her curls. ‘Ah, Rosie,’ he sighed. ‘If there were any other way I could think of…’

‘I’m sure that you’ve tried,’ Rosemary said. ‘And if our efforts can help to keep you safe, in this dangerous business you’ve taken on, well, that in itself would make it worth our while… And the freedom of the Shire, some day, some how, would just be like sugar icing on a fancy cake, it would…’

‘Just as sweet, anyhow,’ Ferdi murmured, his arms tightening. And then he released his hold and stepped away. ‘I’ll be going now,’ he said abruptly. ‘Hally, look out the window for me, as if you’re wakeful for whatever reason, and looking out on the night…’

And Hally picked up his nightcap from the table and put it on his head, so that it would look as if he'd just arisen from his bed. He went to the window where the turned-down lamp gleamed its welcome to benighted travellers, and looked out long and hard. ‘It’s beginning to snow,’ he said, without turning his head. And then, turning away from the window, he added in a whisper, ‘I couldn’t see any sign of Men about.’

Ferdi nodded. ‘The good and the ill of it,’ he said, ‘is that I’ll make tracks, but they’ll soon be covered up again.’

‘Go with grace, brother, and with our love,’ Rosemary said, and her brother smiled, full eyes reflecting a full heart, but he dashed his forearm across his eyes and was matter-of-fact once more.

‘And grace go with you,’ he said.

He moved to the door, where Hally had already removed the bar, slipped out, and was gone.


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