should have gone home and forgotten about him and his madcap adventures, she said to herself. But then she remembered that if she had, John would most like be dead, either strangled or stabbed to death by the Quervishes.
HE’S NOT COMING BACK; HE IS COMING BACK
RUTH AND JOHN
He’s coming back. He’s coming back, He’s coming back, thought Ruth as she sat slumped on the baggage.
“Aargh,” she cried as another contraction racked through her body.
He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back, Ruth almost wept.
How long had it been since John had run off for help, leaving her with the luggage on the pavement? It felt like hours, but then Ruth was rather too preoccupied to watch the clock.
I should have gone home and forgotten about him and his madcap adventures, she said to herself. But then she remembered that if she had, John would most like be dead, either strangled or stabbed to death by the Quervishes. And even if she had gone home, the baby would still need to come out sometime.
“Aargh!” He’s not coming back. He’s not coming back.
After the pain of the contraction subsided, Ruth looked around her in dismay. There was no way she could carry all the bags, but perhaps there would be something in them that she could sell. She started to move the cases around and then smiled unexpectedly. There, on the very top of John’s belongings was the battered and broken case of his beloved violin, his Bergonzi.
“He is coming back,” said Ruth. “He might desert me, but there’s no way he’d run off without his precious fiddle.”
Ruth sank back; things were not so bad after all. But then her newfound peace of mind was disturbed by another contraction.
When she looked up again, she could see John coming towards her. What is that he is pushing? She asked herself, a wheel barrel. There is no way I’m getting in that.
“Aargh!” Another contraction brought pain shooting through her. Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
When John arrived, he set the wheel barrel down looking very pleased with himself.
“Don’t just stand there,” said Ruth. “Get it loaded and let get going.” Although where they were going was another question altogether.
John picked up the bags and set them in the wheel barrel.
“Aren’t you forgetting something,” said Ruth. John looked around, lifted his violin case and put it carefully on the top of the pile.
“No, you idiot!” snapped Ruth. “Me. Where am I going to sit?”
“Of course,” said John quickly and unloaded the barrel then helped Ruth in and piled their belongings on top. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it was better than walking. John, who was remarkably strong for his slender build, picked up the barrel and started wheeling Ruth down the street.
What must I look like, thought Ruth, and what is that smell.
“What was in this wheel barrel before me?” asked Ruth. “Actually on second thoughts, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“Oh. emm, yes perhaps that is best,” agreed John.
“So you have a lot of explaining to do,” said Ruth.
“I’m sorry I took so long to get back,” said John. “The porter wouldn’t lend me his barrel until he had sold all his-.”
“Not that,” said Ruth. “I am mean about the Secret Southern Sudanese Serpent stuff.”
“Oh come on,” said Ruth, “those people that were trying to kill you; tell me what that was all about?”
“I’ll tell you later,” said John Ruth. “I met them when I was a soldier in Sudan with Kitchener at the Battle of Ouderman.”
“Good grief,” said Ruth, “how old are you. I thought you might be a bit older than me, but what age does that make you.”
“I’m not as old as you think,” said John. “I lied about my age when I enlisted. I was only twelve at the time. The Army thought I was fourteen; I was tall for my age.”
Even so, thought Ruth that would make you in your late thirties, nearly twice my age; more than twice my age.
Before Ruth could ask further, John pushed the barrel through a puddle sending water splashing all over Ruth.
“Watch where you’re going,” Ruth called.
“Hold on tight,” said John, “It’s beginning to rain.” And then he began to run at breakneck speed pushing the barrel with Ruth in it in front of him.
Ruth shouted at him to slow down, but he paid no notice.
Soon they were in a street with great big houses on either side. They were set back from the road in what must have once been very fashionable gardens. The houses too must have been very grand at one time, perhaps a hundred years ago or when King Charles was on the throne. Now they were very shabby, very shabby indeed. Ruth could see slipped tiles, fallen gutters and squint chimney pots. The render on the walls was flaked and crumbling with big patches fallen to the ground. Not a house had seen a lick of paint in years. All of the windows were broken and the glass either missing or smashed. You could see strings of washing hanging between some of the windows. Some of the windows were boarded over. No doubt the houses were now sub-let as rooms for the poorer inhabitants of the city.
How many families could be squeezed into one of those old buildings, Ruth asked herself.
Groups of dirty urchin children played in the puddles in the street. When the children saw John, they ran towards him.
“Hello John,” they shouted, “where have you been?”
Ruth hoped that none of the children were John’s offspring. She didn’t fancy being step-mother to a group of grubby little children.
“Clear off,” said John, “I’m taking my wife home to see my mother.”
“In a wheel barrel!” the children laughed.
“Go on Scram,” John called.
“Don’t be like that John,” they shouted. “You’re always our favourite John. Have you got any pennies for us?”
John stopped, dug into his pockets and threw a handful of change down on the cobblestones. The children squealed with delight and ran after them picking them up and fighting over them.
I do hope he’s not taking me in there, thought Ruth, as John stopped outside a particularly derelict looking house with the roof caved in.
Ruth need not have worried. John wheeled the barrel around the back of the house to a low cottage that must have belonged to either the coachman or the gardener when these houses were at their heyday. The cottage, although modest, was in remarkably good repair. There was a little garden around it, well kept with roses and some vegetables.
John helped Ruth to her feet and led her through the door.
“Mother,” he shouted, “It’s me, John, I’m home. And I’ve brought a guest.”
End of Part eight