That same debate played out between my parents for the next two years. Except for the summer months, when food was plentiful; then the arguments subsided. But for the rest of the year, especially during the winter, the same discussions about money continued on a daily basis, and they were often quite heated. I lost two younger siblings during those two years. One during my tenth winter and the other during my eleventh winter. Neither of the children was older than six months. I always suspected hunger as the primary cause of their deaths.
Just before my twelfth birthday, my father started taking me with him when he went to work. My closest living sibling was nearly six and not feeling well most of the time, and the family needed the money I could bring in by helping my father, who was bland and wishy-washy, particularly when selling fabrics. I had no idea what he was like before, but in my mind his lethargy explained why our family was barely making ends meet. Our lives had become much harder since Gerald left, and part of me blamed him. I'm going to thrash him if I ever see him again and teach him a lesson about family responsibility.
It took me less than a week to realize that the people my father was dealing with, as with those in Bristol, had no respect for him. They regularly talked down to him. Rather than asking the price, they regularly paid what they wanted to pay. And he took it without a quibble. And when he tried to curry favor, he would never get it. His customers looked upon him as a whipping board, at least that's how it seemed to me.
I remember when we got home in the dark after a long day of work in late November, and my mother started in on Dad.
"Well? Have you got the money for me to buy food tomorrow?"
"A little. Here." He fished a guinea from his pocket.
"A guinea? That's it? That won’t feed us for a day. You've got to start working harder. With what you earn and what I bring in sewing clothes, we can barely pay the rent, and there is nothing left over to heat this place. And it's going to get colder, Geoff."
"I know, Mildred, I know. I’m trying as hard as I can."
"You haven’t worked hard since Sir Walter Raleigh left favor. You can't wait for him forever."
"He'll get favor back. And when he does, I’ll be right there helping him. You’ll see, we’ll be fine again."
She groaned. I was aware that this was not the first time my mother had heard this from my father. It's great talk from a man trying to get ahead. But after several years of the same song, it loses its credibility. She had enjoyed respectability in the early days when my father grabbed the coattails of the then revered Sir Walter Raleigh, and it was hard not having this luxury now. She hadn’t planned to be satisfied with being a shopkeeper’s wife, and she wasn't even that, at present. She changed the subject, not her tone.
"I overheard the ladies gossiping on the street today. They were talking about seeing Gerald's likeness on a 'Wanted' poster. A 'Wanted' poster, Geoff. There’s a warrant out for our son’s arrest. What are we going to do? What can we do?"
My father stared at the wall. "Nothing. He's an adult. He'll have to work it out for himself."
I watched quietly as my mother cried herself to sleep, her head on my father's shoulder. No matter how bad things got, they loved each other and wanted their lives to be better, the way I was often told they were before my birth. Maybe this is why I wanted to get away from them as soon as I could.
I didn't usually watch my parents fall asleep. But, that night I did. And, after they were sound asleep, I left. I had no plans. I didn't know where I was going. I just left in middle of what was a dark, chilly night.
I could hear the dogs barking around me as I scurried along the roadside. It felt as if they were yelping at me and coming towards me. I began running, faster than I'd ever sprinted in my life, my speed assisted by my sense of fear. Every time I heard a dog, or an owl, or any other animal, or even my own heavy breathing, my pace increased until I was exhausted and had to stop. This continued throughout the night until the sky started to lighten and I found a grove of overhanging bushes and crawled inside for some sleep.
I scavenged for food during the day and swiped a few pieces of fruit from merchants along the way. This became my means of subsistence. I left a coin when I could, as I'd pick up an occasional odd job, but I was always out of money. I also tried begging, and while I did survive on the street, I found life difficult. Yet for nearly two years I stayed with this vagabond existence before deciding to make my way to the sea. Too bad my internal compass wasn’t any good. Turns out I was moving more to the west than to the south. But before long I was on the shores of Bristol. And my life changed forever.
Walter Crofter was born into Elizabethan England.
In a country and a time where favor and politics were both deadly, can an honest boy stay true to himself?
Especially given his family background?
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Genre - Historical Fiction/Romance
Rating – G
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