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The Proposition  by Lindelea

Chapter 8.

Hally returned at teatime with Gundy and Gundy’s ponies, the four of them (ponies and woodcutters) dragging a fair-sized tree. Gundy unhooked the chains and patted the massive piece of wood. ‘That’ll give you some scope for the imagination in days to come,’ he said. ‘Plenty of carving there, and we left enough firewood in the Wood when we lopped off the branches…’

‘I can fetch it with Fan and Nan and the cart, easily enough,’ Hally said. ‘I don’t know how to thank you, Gundy.’

‘Well, as you usually don’t see fit to thank me, then I don’t see why you should begin now,’ Gundy said, and Rosemary, who’d come out to the yard to greet them, looked at him sharply.

He gave a pleasant nod, fingered his cap and said, ‘Rosie,’ in greeting, but his eyes were sorrowful, and somehow she knew that he knew, that Hally had talked over the whole scheme with him, even that the brothers had argued long (but not loud, lest someone should hear them), and she almost smiled to imagine the two of them shouting in whispers… though it was no laughing matter. Not at all. She knew that Hally had talked Gundy round, though Gundy was still not happy with the whole idea.

He’d understood that, whether or not he chose to throw in his lot with them, to aid them in this endeavour, that they would go ahead. It wasn’t for themselves, after all, and how could he argue with unselfishness? No, though it grieved him mightily, the risk they were taking (and for their children’s sake, even more), the least he could do was to try and ease their way.

Hally went into the smial and came out again, saying, ‘So I can hitch Whitefoot to the cart and borrow him, for a bit?’

‘Go ahead,’ Gundy said. ‘I’ll just cadge a cup of tea, whilst you’re gone.’ To Rosemary’s surprise, he didn’t offer to go along with Hally, wherever it was Hally was going, but one thing Ferdi had cautioned them against was showing surprise at anything, and so she simply smiled and said, ‘I’ll put the kettle on!’

To Hally, who had dragged his cart out from beside the shed and was hitching one of the ponies between the shafts, she said, ‘How long will you be?’

He shrugged, and she had to be content with that for an answer. Perhaps he was leaving Gundy here to watch over her and the children?

‘Fine, fine,’ Gundy said. ‘That husband of yours has worn me to a nubbin with his search for the perfect tree. Hah! He could argue a badger out of its hole, he could!’

‘I can only imagine,’ Rosemary said wryly. So that’s how they’d explain the argument, then, acting already as if they’d been watched, out in the Wood, and as if someone were watching now. Well, practice meant safety.

Hally drove off, and Gundy enjoyed his cup of tea, and then he called Robin and Parsley out to the yard. Rosemary, washing up the tea things, wasn’t really paying attention until she heard the sound of shattering glass coming from their bedroom, and a cry of woe from her oldest son. ‘O no! Uncle Gundy!’

Rosemary rushed outside – well, “rushed” was a relative term, considering she had to pick up little Lavvy, and pull little Buckthorn after her, for she never left the little ones alone in the smial when a fire was burning.

Gundy came around the side of the smial, his face bright red, apologising profusely. ‘I’m that sorry, Rosie; I’m that sorry! I don’t know quite how it happened! I was just showing the young ones how to aim a stone – I meant to hit a knot on the wood of the shutter…’ He'd left Robin behind, presumably guarding the window, so his half-truths fell only on Parsley's ears, and the little lass would be sure to pass his sentiments on to her older brother; and from her (because her uncle had never had reason to lie to her before), it would have the ring of truth. Trust Gundy to think of everything.

‘O Gundy,’ Rosemary said in reproach.

‘I’ll replace it, I will, just so soon as I can manage,’ Gundy said. ‘For now, we can close the shutters to keep birds and bats from flying in, and to keep you from draughts… And don’t you be a-thinkin’ of cleaning up the broken glass yourself, Rosie! You let me do that! It’s the least I can do!’

Looking at the window, Rosemary saw a neat hole in one of the glass panes, with lines radiating out from the centre. She suspected Gundy’s throw had been very accurate, indeed.

‘The very least,’ Rosemary said, shaking her head with a sigh. So it begins.

‘I’ll just remove the whole frame,’ he said, ‘and take it to my house, and I’ll bring it back when I can find a new pane. In the meantime, I’m sure we can tack up a piece of paper or parchment… I’ll bring something with me on the morrow.’

She minded the little ones while Gundy dealt with the matter, sitting by the warm fire that burned on the hearth and singing and clapping songs. Still, she couldn’t help a wince when she heard the crash that was Gundy, knocking the rest of the glass from the pane. If the damage had been minor to start, small enough to fix by stuffing a rag in the hole, it was certainly complete now.

At last, longer than it took merely to pick up any glass particles from the bedroom floor, remove the window frame, and close the shutters, Gundy shuffled in and sat down. ‘Milked the goats, and fed them,’ he said. ‘Where should I put the milk?’ But when Rosemary would have arisen, he held up his hand to forestall her. ‘I’m perfectly capable of finding a place if you’ll just name it for me.’

‘The pantry,’ Rosemary said, indicating the proper door. ‘There’s a trapdoor where Hally dug a cold pit in the ground and lined it with stones – it’ll stay cool there.’

Gundy snorted. ‘Cool enough outside,’ he said.

‘Yes, be that as it may, put it in the cold pit as we always do.’

Gundy had the grace to look abashed, and Rosemary gathered that Hally had emphasized “as always” to him during their talk in the Woods. ‘O’ course, Rosie,’ he said, and went to do just that.

They sang together, and then it was time for eventides, and Hally was still gone. Gundy showed no sign of going, though he went out to check on his remaining pony and came in again, and of course Rosemary set a place for him at table as well as one for Hally, though Hally’s remained empty. She fretted silently over two missed meals, tea and eventides, but what could she do? She’d feed him well on his return.

As if conjured by her thoughts, Hally’s voice sounded outside the smial, calling the pony to halt, and Gundy arose from table. ‘He’ll want some help, I gather,’ he said.

Help with what? Rosemary wondered, but she didn’t have long to wonder, for in short order, Gundy and Hally were carrying heavy sacks in from the yard to the pantry. Flour and meal, Hally grunted in passing – they were hundredweight sacks, and a number of them, flour and meal, wheat and barley and rye.

‘There,’ Hally said, dusting his hands as he emerged from the storage room. ‘The rest is for you, Gundy. You can bring the cart back on the morrow.’

‘I will,’ Gundy said, ‘along with something to cover the window.’

Hally appeared genuinely surprised. ‘The window?’ he said.

Gundy hung his head and shuffled his feet, mindful of the wide-eyed children, and explained his “error” in a low voice.

Hally shook his head in disgust. ‘Gundy, Gundy,’ he said. ‘Didn’t you learn when we were lads, not to cast stones at a smial? If you’re going to cast stones at a knot, make sure it’s a knot in a tree, you knot-for-a-head!’

‘I suppose I deserve that remark,’ Gundy said, making a wry mouth.

‘Aw, now,’ Rosemary said. ‘Don’t be too hard on the hobbit. I’m sure he’s sorry, and he didn’t mean for it to happen…’ Robin looked up sharply at this, and she kicked herself. She was going to have to be much more careful. ‘I mean,’ she amended, ‘that he knows better than to do such a thing, and will likely remember this day for a long time to come!’

Changing the subject, she said, ‘Now, Hally, I saved some eventides for you, a nice bit of pigeon pie…’

‘And a fine pie it is, too,’ Gundy said, assuming his normal tone now that the apologies were over with. ‘Or p’rhaps I ought to say, it was!’

‘But the evening’s coming down,’ Hally said, ‘and you ought to be on your way home, unless you want to stay over this eve, and go on in the morning.’

‘I’ll be well,’ Gundy said. ‘We’ll make good time, my ponies and I, and be home before the Sun’s last smiles are gone from the sky.’

‘Best hurry yourself, then,’ Hally said. ‘I’ll help you hitch Thruppence to the cart, and then you’d better be on your way.’

‘Yes, Mother,’ Gundy said, with a shake of his head.

Rosemary couldn’t help laughing at this, and she allowed the children to stand in the doorway (instead of preparing directly for bed, as they usually did after the eventide meal, “just this once” – and the just this onces would be few and far between, from this point on, she feared), and watch the process of hitching both ponies where one had been. They sang a song to speed Gundy on his way, and then it was time to close the door, and put the crossbar in place.

Once the children were in bed, Rosemary went to the pantry door and opened it, to gaze at the tidy piles of full sacks. ‘Why, Hally!’ she said. ‘I thought we were going to “as usual” from here on out! What’s all this?’

‘You’ve got to have something to go on, if you’re to be baking for a great lot of visitors,’ Hally said. ‘And with the gathering Ferdi spoke of, I didn’t know how long it would be that the miller might have supplies to sell… as it was, I bought of him as much as he was willing to sell to me, and as I told him it was for several families, I argued him round in the end.’

‘But it must have cost a great deal!’ Rosemary protested.

Hally shrugged ruefully. ‘Half of all we’ve saved, over the years,’ he admitted. ‘What I was putting aside to buy a pair of good, strong ponies, like Gundy’s,’ he said. ‘And on the morrow, we’ll be spending the rest at market.’

‘All our savings?’ Rosemary gasped.

‘Silver and copper won’t do us much good, if there’s naught in the market,’ Hally said. ‘Should the ruffians gather all the flour and meal from the Mill, and all the foodstuffs the farmers are growing, well, I doubt we’ll find silver and copper filling to eat. We might as well gather what we can now, before the ruffians do.’

Rosemary was shaken. ‘And if they simply find it convenient, that we’ve gathered all these good food stores together in one place for them to scoop up, what’ll we do then?’

Hally smiled grimly, ‘Ah, but Rose-my-own,’ he said. ‘Before they take that idea into their heads, you’re going to convince them that the supplies are better left here, for you to use in making up fine meals and baked goods for their enjoyment.’

Rosemary drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. ‘I hope you know what we’re doing,’ she said.

Hally nodded. ‘I hope I do, too,’ was all he could find to say in answer.

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