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The Waif and the Ferryman (standard:drama, 2325 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Feb 06 2009Views/Reads: 2375/1510Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
'Bad boy!' Thomas shouted, leaving the bull and rushing across the deck to stop the donkey from eating Mary's flowers.

The Waif and the Ferryman 

©2008 Ian Hobson 

The river was wide and deep, yet few boats came this far upstream, and
any that did would have to pass under the ferry rope, which meant 
keeping well to one side or ducking low where the rope sagged in the 
middle.  The ferry rope had been there for many a long year, and was 
secured to stout posts on either bank.  A while ago there had been talk 
of replacing the ferry with a bridge, but times change: new roads, and 
new towns too, took people in other directions, and a wide stone-built 
bridge three miles downstream took most of the traffic nowadays. 

But still, the old ferryman, made a living; a few travellers came his
way, and farmers taking a cow, or a pig or two, to market would use the 
ferry to cut a mile or two off their journey.  The ferry itself was 
even older than the rope it was attached to, and was a cross between a 
raft and a boat, with shallow sides and a flat, rectangular deck almost 
as wide as it was long. 

'Excuse me, sir.' 

It was early morning and old Ben, the ferryman, sitting in the sunshine
on the bench outside his cottage, had dozed off to sleep.  He stirred 
and looked towards his garden gate where a little girl stood, and then 
got to his feet and walked over to take a closer look at her.  She had 
long golden hair and was pretty, but her face was dirty and her dress 
was tattered and torn, and her feet were bare.  'A ragamuffin,' Ben 
observed.  'Whatever can you want?' 

'I would like you to take me across the river,' said the girl. 

'It's a penny for children,' said old Ben, guessing correctly that she
would not have even a farthing.  The little girl looked crestfallen.  
Her name was Mary and she was just ten-years-old.  And she had walked 
many miles, and slept in a barn and two haystacks, before finding her 
way blocked by the river. 

'And where might you be heading for?' Ben asked. 

'London, sir,' Mary answered. 

'London?' said Ben.  'Then you've a fair walk ahead of you.  And what
will you do when you get to London?' 

'I'm not sure, sir,' Mary replied.  'Find work perhaps; I hear the
streets of London are paved with gold.' 

Old Ben threw his head back in laughter.  'Yes, and the moon is made of
green cheese.  Take my advice and go back home to your mother.' 

'But I am an orphan, sir,' said Mary.  'I have no mother or father, and
I have been walking for three days.  I cannot turn back now.' 

'Well,' said Ben, 'you seem to know your own mind.  But I'll not pull
the ferry across the river for one passenger, not even for a penny, but 
if you wait a while, until I've paying passengers to take across, I 
dare say I'll find room for you.  It's market day today, so you'll not 
have long to wait.' 

Ben began to move away but then turned back to look again at the girl. 
She was just a waif and not much more than skin and bone.  'I suppose 
you must be hungry,' he said, 'and thirsty too?'  Mary nodded; she had 
not eaten since the day before when she had found a turnip lying beside 
the road. 

'Come inside then,' said Ben.  'I've eggs and bread and a little milk if
you'd like some.' 


Later, while Mary was waiting beside the river, feeling very full and
very glad that the ferryman had been so kind, she saw that there were 
wild flowers growing just a little further downstream and decided to 
pick some for him, to repay his kindness.  And soon she had a nice big 

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