Saturday, March 12, 2005

 

the child, forty


When they made camp before sundown that second night out, they found that it was just as well that they hadn't attempted to set up the tents the night before. They would never have been able to do so in the dark; it was nigh on impossible to figure out how to put the tents up in the daylight.

And, of course, Forest and James were knocking heads over it, each of them sure that he knew the right way to do the job, and that the other knew nothing about it. To Starr's horror, the pair of them kept on and on, wrangling over which of them knew best how to set up the tents.

Until at last the two turned around to find that, while they had been arguing, the others had, through trial and error, managed at last to get all the tents up.

There were three tents in the company. After a brief discussion, it was decided that the women should have one tent together, Malachi and his companions the second, and the remaining men the third.

Then, following Forest's suggestion, they set a watch for the night. There were seven men, so each one would take a shift each night. Lucy started to protest the women not being included in the watch, but Linda and Joy quickly hushed her.

This night, Forest said, he himself would take the first watch.

The group fixed and ate supper and cleaned up afterwards. A time of talking round the fire, and then one by one, they retired to the tents to go to bed. Stone and Starr said their sweet good-nights to each other.

And so to sleep.

Two nights later, it was Stone's turn to take the first watch. Taking Starr by the hand, he invited her to watch with him. Quietly they walked round and round the camp, talking softly together under the wheeling stars till it was time to go to the companions' tent and call Malachi to take the next watch.

And so it went. The days hiking along the valley soon became routine to the group. The rest breaks were soon fewer and briefer, as their muscles grew more used to the exercise. It would be nice to be able say that the arguments among themselves also grew fewer and briefer - but that was not the case. Especially between James and Forest. But soon between Lucy and Linda as well.

Starr walked at Stone's side, grieving inwardly at every quarrel. How she longed for the real unity the Master had called for them to walk in!

And then there was the rain. It did not come often, but when it did come, it poured buckets. They soon realized, the first time it rained, that there was no point in trying to press on through such a downpour (although Forest argued long and loud to press on anyway). And so they stopped and set up the three tents - a task they had well learned by this time - and huddled within them. The women in theirs, the men in theirs, the companions in theirs.

Well... not quite. For Stone drew Starr aside and led her to the tent of the three companions and asked to be allowed to come in. And so they spent a delightful afternoon, that first rain, talking back and forth with Malachi, Maccabees, and Morgan.

Morgenstern, actually. At last Starr heard his name aright. She sat by Stone's side, mostly listening, all that long afternoon. Stone and the others were so caught up in their conversation, they didn't even notice the end of the rain. Till Jack came and called that the rest were packing their tents to get on the march again.

It was a fine time for Starr, those first few days. Walking at Stone's side, watching with him if his watch was an early one, listening in on his conversations with the companions...

And then there came a hard rain again - the fourth one of the journey. Everyone scrambled to get the tents up quickly. Stone, as usual, went to the companions' tent to wait out the rain in conversation. But when Starr followed...

Maccabees opened the tent door and looked at her. He turned to speak a word to Stone. And, to her utter shock...

Stone frowned at her. 'This is our conversation,' he said. 'You should be in the women's tent.'

And when both Starr and Maccabees stood there at the tent door, stunned, Stone got up, came over, took the flap of cloth from Maccabees' hand - and said to Starr, 'Go on quickly before you catch your death of cold.'

And he closed the tent door in her face.

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