She'll Fear Not What Men Say! - Episode 16
It was that time in the morning when the light of day is just beginning to make its presence felt but darkness is still, for the most part, winning. It is not a time of day in which to be awake, unless you absolutely have to be, or circumstances dictate that you are going to be. Aefelthrith’s circumstances dictated that she was going to be.
Put simply, Aefelthrith’s was sharing a bed with Gwladys. This was something she had sworn she would never willingly do again, after her experiences when they first set out together, all those months ago. This was because Gwladys, despite her protestations to the contrary, snored! Something she was doing right now, in point of fact. This, on its own, would have been enough to have dampened Aefelthrith’s good humour but, when you added the noise coming from the other side of the sheet, which had been pinned to the rafters of the roof to provide a make-shift screen, then you had a match made in Hell.
The other side of the screen contained ‘Parson Brown’ (aka Captain D’Arbanville of The Golden Fleece), his ‘wife’ Dolly and their young son of just a few hours. It was the latter member of this trio who was providing the bulk of the noise, demanding food apparently every five minutes.
Aefelthrith sat up in bed, her arms folded and an expression of distinct displeasure on her face. Gwladys, who had been enjoying a deep and untroubled sleep, turned over and came into sharp contact with her companion’s elbow.
“Ow! Wha’ are yer doin’?” She complained, sleepily.
“I am sitting up because, unlike you apparently, I cannot sleep!” Aefelthrith snarled.
“Why?” Gwladys yawned.
“Why? Why? Because of your snoring and that damn child screaming at the top of it’s voice every five minutes, that’s why!” Aefelthrith hissed.
“Don’t snore” Gwladys insisted, settling down again.
“You most certainly do! How you can sleep through that infernal racket is beyond me!”
“Not my kiddy. Be different if I was it’s mum” Gwladys explained, sleepily.
“Well, I’m certainly not it’s mum but it’s still keeping me awake”
“Try an’ ignore it” Gwladys suggested, “and be thankful yer’ve not got to feed it!”
“Huh! Easy for you to say” Aefelthrith folded her arms ever tighter, “and what about our ship, eh?”
“Sailed” Gwladys answered, laconically.
“Precisely! We’re stuck here, with a screaming baby and no means of escape and all you can do is snore the night away”
“Would me being awake mean the ship hadn’t sailed?” Gwaldys asked, pointedly.
“Well, no…” Aefelthrith began.
“Right, so I might as well get some sleep. We’ve got a long day tomorrow. Night!” Gwladys settled back down again. There was the sound of rhythmic breathing, followed by the opening gambits in, what was quite clearly going to be, a full-throated snore. Aefelthrith screwed up her face, folded her arms ever tighter and settled down for a good, long spell of absolute misery.
When she next opened her eyes, she was astounded to note that it was now full daylight. It seemed impossible, but she must have been asleep. She was still sitting upright, more or less, although with her head now resting on the corner of a pillow. She was aware of the sounds of people trying to move about quietly and the gurgling noise of a contented baby.
“Yer awake then?” Gwladys’s head popped around the ‘screen’
“Must have dropped off, eventually” Aefelthrith yawned.
“Been out like a light” Gwladys observed, “thought we’d wake yer up what with washing the babby an’ all but yer’ve been snorin’ like a good ‘un”
“I do NOT snore!” Aefelthrith insisted.
“Ah well, ‘ave it yer own way” Gwladys shrugged, “I’ve got some water on the boil, I’ll make yer a drink if yer want?”
“Please” Aefelthrith nodded.
“Yer can come and play with the babby” Gwladys suggested.
“Erm, thanks but I don’t think so” Aefelthrith shook her head.
Eventually, curiosity overtook Aefelthrith and she edged her way round to where Dolly was settling her newborn down into a makeshift cot.
“He looks…contented” Aefelthrith offered.
“E’s been a bugger durin’ the night, as I’m sure you ‘eard, but ‘e’s as good as gold now” Dolly beamed.
“Where’s his father?” Aefelthrith looked around for any signs of the ‘Parson’.
“Still out like a light! Alright for some, innit?” Dolly grinned.
“The question is, what we’re goin’ to do now?” Gwladys asked as she distributed steaming mugs to the two young women.
“I reckon we need to get gone” Dolly stated, “I know it’s not ideal but we can’t risk ‘angin’ around ‘ere any more than we ‘ave to”
“I’d normally say as ‘ow you shouldn’t be travellin’, not when yer’ve only just given birth, but I reckon yer right” Gwladys sipped her drink and nodded.
“What about you two?” Dolly looked from one to the other.
“We’re going to catch a ship!” Aefelthrith announced, brightly.
“Not today, we’re not” Gwladys responded, “there ain’t nothin’ in or due out today”
“How do you know?” Dolly asked.
“Gwladys has been keeping a careful note of the comings and goings at this port” Aefelthrith explained.
“An’ I know we’re stuck now fer a day or two. There was one went out yesterday we could ‘ave been on, but…” Gwladys shrugged.
“We want you to know ‘ow grateful we are” Dolly assured her, “we’d ‘ave been in a right mess without you”
“I would like to echo Dolly’s comments” ‘Parson Brown’ interjected.
“Oh, yer up an’ about then, are yer?” Gwladys grinned
“Last night was something of a tax on one’s system” The ‘Parson’ admitted.
“Humph!” Agreed Aefelthrith.
“Better get yerself used to it, there’s be many more afore ‘e’s much grown” Gwladys nodded toward the now slumbering infant.
“I was listening to what you were saying just now, concerning your departure from the port. Obviously, we do feel somewhat responsible for your predicament…” The ‘Parson’ began.
“Mind you, if ‘e ‘adn’t gone stickin’ ‘is nose in where it weren’t wanted…” Dolly pointed out, darkly.
“He rescued us in our hour of need.” Aefelthrith responded, loyally, “twice, if you count the Watch coming here yesterday”
“Be that as it may. I have something of a proposition for you” The ‘Parson’ announced, with a grin.
Which is how it came to be that, some hours later, a black coach and horses pulled out onto the Coast Road. The driver appeared to be a man of the cloth, sitting next to him was a lady of a certain age, dressed in black with a dark veil covering her face. Within were two young women. One primly dressed, the other also dressed in black with a dark veil. The latter of these was holding a very young baby rather awkwardly, a situation about which the baby concerned was complaining bitterly. The coach had only travelled a matter of a few hundred yards along the road before it was stopped at a checkpoint manned by Officers of the Watch.
“’Scuse me sir, madam” The Sergeant began, “’ere, ‘old on! Don’t I know you sir?”
“You c…c…came upon me when I was v…v…visiting the sick, yesterday, Sergeant”
“So I did, sir, so I did.” The Sergeant nodded, “’Ow did that turn out?”
“I regret that the Good Lord saw f…f…fit to t…t…take him into his fold” The ‘Parson’ confided.
“Oh, right. Better off, I ‘spect, given that awful moaning what ‘e were doing?” The Sergeant suggested.
“B…b…bless you my child. He is now in the K…k…kingdom of Heaven” The ‘Parson’ agreed.
“Just a routine stop, sir, nothing to worry about” The Sergeant smiled, thinly, “can I ask who yer travellin’ with sir and where yer bound for?”
“Of course, Sergeant” The ‘Parson’ smiled, warmly, “beside me is my maid and within is my wife, our newly born son and the child’s nanny”
Sergeant Norris looked keenly at the maid, who nodded back to him, amiably, and also at the nanny, who didn’t appear to have much idea when it came to children.
“Scuse my impertinence, your reverence, but we’re lookin’ for two women, about the age and general build of your maid and nanny. Could I just see their faces? Then you can be on yer way, of course”
“I regret not, Sergeant. You see, we belong to a strict religious order. Hence the garb and veils. It is our belief and practice that ladies should not reveal themselves to people outside of their household. I’m sure you understand, Sergeant?”
The Sergeant chewed his bottom lip and thought deeply.
“Well, yer see, sir, I’m in a bit of a quandary ‘ere an’ no mistake. ‘Cause without seein’ who these ladies are, I can’t rightly let you proceed, if yer get my drift?”
“It does seem to be something of an impasse” The ‘Parson’ nodded.
“Right, Birch, Cane, get ‘em off this coach an’ let’s be ‘avin’ yer!” Sergeant Norris ordered.
Inside her voluminous gown, Gwladys felt the weight of the piece of wood she was concealing and took a deep breath.
If you haven't yet caught up with all of the adventures of Aefelthrith and Gwladys, you can read the rest of the stories in the Collection here on ABCtales: