After the Rain – Taster

 

In the garden the following day, Marianne found the remains of the bonfire. The disk of ash was cold and frozen. There was no sign that anyone else had been there since she and Daniel had left.

That morning seemed colder than the day before. The sky was a blanket of thick cloud, and a low mist shrouded the garden. It muffled all sound, making it seem even quieter than before. Marianne tread softly as she moved around, matching the stillness with a stealth of her own. She walked through the woods and down to the lake, which was still frozen. The mist was so thick that she could not see to the end of the meadow. On the beach, she collected pebbles to throw out onto the ice. The strange noise the pebbles made as they bounced along the frozen surface was made even more outlandish as it rebounded inside the basin of mist. Along with the chill and the mist, there was something new in the air; the freedom of the previous day had been replaced by a feeling of being watched. There could be any number of eyes hidden in the mist. She stopped throwing pebbles and looked around, but she could see or hear nothing. But still the feeling haunted her, making her conscious of her lonely situation. It was at that point that she decided to walk back to the garden.

She wandered around the copse for a while, but curiosity pulled her back to the sheds, where she found herself yet again standing by the remains of the bonfire. She didn’t know what she had expected. She hoped that the mystery tenant had had some warmth from it, but it didn’t satisfy her need to know more. Both Daniel and Mrs Bede had urged her not to go near the sheds on her own, but Marianne’s night had been filled with cold, despite the warmth of her bed; all she had been able to think of was a helpless old man, shivering, exiled from his one source of shelter by her thoughtless actions. She only needed to know if there was any evidence that he had returned or not.

This time, she knew better than to take the tramp by surprise. She knocked loudly on the door before entering, and called hello as she pushed her way in. It was dark but she did not go to open the window. The light from the door was enough to see that the corner was unoccupied. The bag and the blanket were gone. The shed looked as if it had been cold and empty for many years.

She went back outside, partly relieved that there had been no unpleasant encounters, but more than a little disappointed that the tramp had not realised that she was letting him stay. While she was pondering over a method of making her message clearer, the feeling of being watched returned. There was no way of knowing if it was just her imagination, or if there really was someone hidden in the mist. If there was, she felt sure that it was not Daniel.

“Hello?” she shouted. “Is someone there?”

Her voice sounded flat the mist. It made the returning silence even more intense. Marianne stood very still, as still as her surroundings. The moment seemed to go on for a long time.

Out of the mist came a sudden noise, loud and abrasive. Marianne gasped, and span round, before identifying the sound as a flapping crow, taking flight out the trees. Spurred into action by the shock, Marianne hitched up her skirts and ran towards the trees, determined to find what had scared the bird. Without thinking what she would do if she even found someone, she plunged into the woods. In her haste, she did not attend to the ground, and a creeping bramble branch caught her foot and brought her crashing to the floor. She put out her hands to protect herself, but the fall still knocked her breath away. As she lay on the damp ground, the stupidity of her impetuous dash began to dawn upon her. If there was someone dangerous in the woods, she was in a very vulnerable position. She sat up and scanned all around her.

“Is there anyone here?” she shouted. Her voice jumped back to her in a dull echo, but there was no reply and no noise. She waited a minute, but there was only silence. She was alone, and this made her feel even more absurd. Once again, this tramp had given her a shock and made her act somewhat foolishly. Inspecting herself, she saw that she was littered with dead leaves and twigs. She stood up and brushed herself down, growing more vigorous as her shame turned to anger. She had been compromised in her own garden; the tramp was making a fool of her when all she wanted to do was help him. She stamped her foot, then shook herself down. She would at least walk out of the woods with dignity.