‘Ere! What you doin’ outter yer place, missy? Get back to that table now! We got things to tell both on yez, and yez better listen, an’ all!’ Growler reinforced this admonition by hauling Sarah by her collar back to the bench. Irritated and upset by this, she batted his hand away. ‘Oi! None o’ that!’ he shouted, showing her his fist. ‘Leave me alone, you disgusting old man!’, she yelled back, with a hysterical spirit that quite astonished Giles, used as he was to his sister’s grave and responsible attitude. ‘Anybody would think you were my father, the way you act. Well, you’re not, we have no parents, and never will have!’
With this, she burst into tears. Giles spontaneously got up from his side of the table and put a comforting arm around her, glaring defiantly at the astonished and red-faced Growler all the while. Mrs. Asher, arms akimbo as usual had been looking on open-mouthed on this scene, saying nothing. She now uncharacteristically decided to pur oil on troubled waters. ‘Now listen ‘ere you two, no more of this shenanigans.’ Her voice, for once, was not strident or unkind. ‘The two young ‘uns ‘as to be told the state of things, and they’ll ‘ave to listen.’
This was the state of things.
Mr. and Mrs. Asher (so she related) had been engaged by ‘person or persons unknown’ to look after the cottage. They would be provided with free lodgings therein, and unlimited access to the pantry, on condition that they looked after Giles and Sarah until the New Year, when the situation would be reviewed, It went without saying, by their ample girths and wasted complexions, that the gamekeeper and his wife had taken full advantage of the stock in hand. Their duties were but shoddily accomplished, to gather by the state of the cottage. The governor of the children’s home it was who had given Growler these instructions. When Growler asked whence they had come, the governor had fixed him with a penetrating stare, and slowly ground out the words, ‘I am not allowed to tell you, but even if I did, you would not believe me.’
The children both felt a shudder of excitement and terror run through tem on being told these things. Giles and Sarah looked at each other, then Sarah turned to Mrs. Asher and said, ‘Have you no idea at all who your employer is?’ The woman raised her voice to its normal pitch of near hysteria. ‘Oi’ve just told you, ain’t oi? Now, we want as little to do with you as possible. We’ll feed you, but amuse yourselves all day, ’cause we won’t. We won’t bother you if you don’t bother us. This employment is no better than temp’rary, any road, so don’t be surprised if yez wakes up one mornin’ an’ me an’ im’s garn!’ This seemingly innocuous, but actually sinister and prophetic remark, seemed to the Ashers to have so much of the force of humour in it that they both immediately broke out into a cacophonous howl of what presumably passed for laughter. And they continued in this fashion out of the door and down the hallway, before the footsteps and laughter receded, no doubt to give way later to argument and apartheid.
The children sat at table until they were sure that their makeshift guardians had gone. Giles turned to Sarah. ‘What do you make of all this, Solly? Who are they answerable to? I don’t understand any of it!’ Sarah patted his head and stood up. ‘I think a walk is in order. Then we can try to talk this thing over. At least we know we’ll get food if we stay here, however disagreeable the company, and we might even get to find out who our benefactors are. Get those hooks from over there, and I’ll see if I can find a ball of string and scissors in this chest of drawers. If we can find some tree branches, maybe we can try to fish. I think I heard a running stream from my window this morning. Shall we go?’
Seoul Motet Choir, Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen/Angels We Have Heard On High/Ding Dong Merrily On High/In Dulci Jubilo (sung in Korean)