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|The Waif and the Ferryman (standard:drama, 2325 words)|
|Author: Ian Hobson||Added: Feb 06 2009||Views/Reads: 2006/1124||Story 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 Click here to read the rest of this story (185 more lines)
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