It's a Long Way to Aunty May is the story of three siblings: Matt, fifteen years of age, Nettie, twelve and Toby, nearly ten. The story opens when they're given the news that their parents have been killed in a car accident; they are now orphaned and at the mercy of the courts.
Facing the prospect of being split up and placed into foster homes, the children's luck appears to change when they find some foster parents who own a country farm with all sorts of animals. The children are relieved they can stay together and a farm in Victoria sounds like fun. But as far as their new foster parents are concerned, the children are there to work, not play.
After many months of physical and mental abuse, Matt, Nettie and Toby decide to escape and make their way to their only relative, Aunty May, in New South Wales. But it's a long way to Aunty May - 1200 kilometres in fact! Nevertheless, with little money and plenty of courage, instead of cycling to school one morning they begin the long journey towards potential freedom- and the next stage of their lives.
LIFE BEGINS ON THE FARM
The children stood like statues in the middle of the yard, all with a distinct feeling of being dumped. All three looked panic-stricken as they watched their last link with Melbourne disappearing down the drive.
‘Better put your things in your rooms, please children,’ said Mrs Kruge, bringing them back to reality. ‘We have tea at six o’clock over in the house. Get your bags into your place there, and come to the house when you have cleaned up, yes? Nettie is it? You help me get tea and that will be one of your jobs from now.’
Without speaking they did as they were told and took their luggage to their own area. At first it looked bleak to them, with unadorned walls that needed a good paint job. This is where they were going to sleep and it seemed a pretty stark place for three children. The beds were bereft of mattresses or bedding and it was impossible not to compare things with their own pleasant rooms in their parents’ home.
‘I know it doesn’t look much,’ said Matt, ‘but we’ve just got to make the best of things here, there’s no other way.’ A quick look at the lounge seemed more encouraging.
‘It’ll be better when we put our own things around, too’ said Nettie, trying to be cheerful.
They returned to the kitchen where they were directed to sit, while Nettie and Mrs Kruge went to work. Nettie thought the preparations seemed a small amount for five people but made no comment. Soon after, Mr Kruge came in and, with no acknowledgement to the children, sat in his chair, apparently his sacred spot at the table.
They were so hungry after their journey their tummies were rumbling and they found their places at the table and looked towards the kitchen, enjoying the savoury smells of lovely food. Ah, a lovely hot meal thought Matt and Toby, but when Nettie brought out the plates of food, one truth was there before them. The small portions on their plates told them that this was going to be standard fare and their hearts sank further. The two Kruges’ plates were piled high with food but when they looked at their own small portions they could only sit there staring. Dinner compared badly with the laden table for afternoon tea, obviously produced to impress the government officials earlier that day.
‘Eat up,’ invited Mrs Kruge brightly.
Well that wasn’t going to take long they thought. Perhaps she would be more generous with the sweets thought Nettie. She’d noticed their sweets were to be stewed peaches, probably from the trees in the garden, but the same small serves for them were presented.
‘I’m still hungry, Mrs Kruge.’ Nettie did a good imitation of Oliver Twist and received much the same reception.
‘You have quite enough food for a child,’ Mrs Kruge scolded. ‘You have two courses! You should be grateful for what we give you. If you were not all here, you would be split to three other families. Here you are together and you should be thankful. Ungrateful lot.’ Her severe appearance didn’t improve with her anger and, with her quaint grammar and grumpy look, she depressed them as they sat silently at the table.
Nettie looked down at her empty plate. If they complained about anything, she reckoned, they’d always get the same argument. It looks as though we’ll be going to bed hungry every night, she thought.
When the meal was over, they finally heard from Mr Kruge, who spoke in the same sort of stilted English his wife used. ‘Matt, we have a herd of forty cows and you will help me with the afternoon milking every day. This happens after school so no problem for you. It is important for that is the main income on this farm.
‘Nettie, you will do whatever Mrs Kruge tells you, but after school it will start with looking for eggs in the chook yard. Toby can help you because he only has to chop up some kindling for the stove fire. All you have to do is have enough ready to start the fire each morning, Toby. You can start tomorrow.’ There was silence as the three of them gaped at him. ‘You are lucky we do not make you get up early to feed chooks before school,’ he said, angry at their rebellious looks.
Matt had a frown of worry as he looked at Mr Kruge. What a bully he was, he thought. Knows no other way.
‘Nettie. You help Mrs Kruge with washing up. She should not have to do these things with three strong children around here to help.’ Automatically all three started to clear the table and help with the washing-up. The boys were not going to sit there and watch Nettie work without their help. As time went on Mrs Kruge would just sit in her chair knitting and let them do it all by themselves. No point in working if someone else can do it for you.
At the end of Mr Kruge’s speech, he added that they would be taken to school in his truck the next day, so they should be ready to leave by eight-thirty. ‘When your bikes come, you ride by yourselves to school and I will not have to take you at all.’ At that point they were dismissed to their dilapidated bunkhouse.
With more time to look around their new digs they started to warm to the idea of living here. There were four bedrooms, one with an ensuite, and Nettie claimed that straight away. Toby opted to share with Matt, for company. There were two sets of several showers plus one bath and a small dormitory behind them. Then they had another look at the lounge. They brightened when they realised how large it was. ‘This is so cool,’ announced Toby. ‘Look at all the nice lounge chairs,’ and he proceeded to try them one by one. ‘There’s some cupboards with magazines in them. I wonder what ones they are? There are even pictures on the walls and curtains. There’s a TV stand there Matt. I’ll bet the TV in their place is the one from here!’ said an aggrieved Toby.
Matt soon had his guitar set up and then noticed a piano tucked away nearly out of sight. They tried one or two notes but reckoned the piano had never been tuned in its life. It sounded terrible.
At the back of the accommodation block, past the lounge, was a well-equipped laundry and an exit to the farm. Nettie was thinking aloud, ‘I wonder if we’re supposed to wash our own things?’ All three looked blankly at each other. ‘I suppose we are,’ she guessed. ‘That’ll be my job, everyone.’ She made another inspection of the laundry and suggested they put their dirty washing in a container sitting expectantly empty against the wall. ‘We’ll be OK here,’ she said cheerfully. ‘Better than being over there in the house with those two Scrooges.’ They all doubled up with laughter at the new nickname and from then on it stuck.
Toby tried it out … ‘Mr and Mrs Scrooge!’ he said over and over and hugged himself with the pleasure it gave him to laugh at these people. He suddenly sobered. ‘I’ve never cut wood with an axe,’ he said in a tremulous voice. ‘I saw that axe leaning up against the log. It’s huge. I think it’s too heavy for me. It has a big head, a thick handle and the edge looks very sharp. Both Scrooges frighten me, Matt.’
‘If I can get away from the milking early, I’ll help you mate. You never know, they might even be grateful when they find that we’re actually useful. Let’s hope so, anyway,’ he said, putting his arm around his frightened brother to reassure him.
They found bedding and started to make up their beds, feeling better all the time. Matt asked, ‘Now, who’s going to be first into the showers?’
‘I’m going to have a bath instead of a shower,’ said Toby with a grin. ‘I’ve never done that before.’
‘Right. Nettie, you’ve got your own shower, and I’m off to try the other showers. I must say it’s pretty cool to have so many towels and stuff here.’ There was plenty of hot water and Matt idly wondered how it was heated. No doubt that’ll be another job they’ll think up for us if it happens to be fuelled with wood. They later found out it was gas fuelled, so that was a relief.
When they’d finished they noticed Caesar sitting in the doorway, very interested in everything they were doing. They fussed over him, as they were already friends. During afternoon tea they’d given him bits of food from their plates and patted him. ‘I wonder who called such a little dog “Caesar”?’ smiled Nettie. ‘Not those two I bet. They wouldn’t recognise anything funny if they fell over it!’
‘You’re right, Nett. I heard them tell the officers when they were first bailed up by the dog that the Kruges were asked to take Caesar when someone from their church died and left the dog alone.’
They found a box and some old rugs and made up a bed for Caesar. Matt patted the rugs and called to the little dog. ‘Come on Caesar, here’s your bed too, come on, sit here boy,’ and they all smiled when he jumped up, made himself comfortable and watched what everyone was doing from there. One by one they patted him and rubbed his head, so glad that he was there keeping them company. They hoped he would stay the night with them and, as no-one shooed him away, he soon settled down.
In time, they made a point of leaving the main door fixed ajar so that Caesar could come and go as he liked, but usually he hopped up as soon as they did each morning, and that meant they had to put him outside because he kept getting in the way of each one of them in their hurry not to be late for breakfast, meagre though it was to be.
Breakfast was along the same lines as the evening meal. One piece of toast was allotted to each, with a jug of milk they had to share. They were allowed butter or jam on their toast, not both. Back in their rooms, Nettie grumbled, ‘We’re not going to get much to eat here. By the time we sit down for tea, all we’ve eaten for the day is a piece of toast with a gulp of milk, and two pieces of bread in a sandwich for lunch.’
‘Well, there shouldn’t be a shortage of milk, damn it, but they don’t give much of it to us for breakfast do they? I noticed some mandarins ripening up in that beginnings of an orchard, so maybe we can fill up on some fruit to help out. That’s all I can think of at the moment,’ said Matt. ‘We can’t alter things here. You heard what the old duck said when you asked for some more food, Nett. She’s going to trot that out for any complaint we make. All we can do is wait until the Department of Health reps come to check on us, and then we can say our piece. Hopefully, we might be able to have more food put out for us after that.’
Toby chimed in. ‘Isn’t Mr Scrooge a guts. And doesn’t he make an awful noise when he eats!’ The others nodded. ‘Specially when she makes that stuff she calls soup.’
Nettie laughed. ‘She puts it down as though it’s a great treat, as though she’s waiting for applause, but I think it’s more like dishwater,’ she said, bringing explosive laughter from the others.
‘They’re both totally gross,’ Matt added. ‘Old Man Kruge is pretty free with his fists too. I’ve copped a few on the back of my head. What about you two?’
‘Me too,’ said Toby. ‘I wasn’t doing anything wrong today, Matt, and whack! It gave me such a fright and I hadn’t seen it coming.’ Toby’s face started to crumple at the memory of it. ‘He told me I was slow and called me a stupid idiot too. He’s always calling me stupid.’
Nettie piped up that Mrs Scrooge was trying to make her hurry up with her homework. ‘It was just because she didn’t want to do so much towards tea herself. She called me lazy. I looked up and told her I was going to do my homework before anything else, no matter what she wanted. That’s what I’d always done. When I put my head down again something made me look up quickly, and do you know what, she had the duster handle lined up to hit me across the face with all her weight behind the swing.’
‘What did you do?’ asked Matt anxiously.
‘I put up my arm to ward it off. See here on my arm where it’s bruised?’ She mimicked Mrs Kruge. ‘And she said “You respect me, Missy”,’ and wobbled her head from side to side as Mrs Kruge often did when she was angry.
‘As she walked away I said she could threaten me as much as she liked. But right after delivering the eggs I was going to do my homework first.’ Nettie was twisting her hands with agitation as she described it. ‘In fact, I think I must have shouted it,’ she added. ‘Then I said that if she did that to me again I would take twice as long. And I shouted that too.’
‘What sort of people are they?’ wondered Matt out loud. ‘Someone who’s been brought up that way I guess.’ The other two nodded. ‘I don’t know what we can do about all this. All we can do is try and keep out of trouble until help arrives. It’s not much and that’s going to be hard I’m guessing,’ Matt said, more to himself than to them.
Nettie added, ‘I’m thinking they’ve only taken the three of us as unpaid helpers around the place. That’s what it seems to me.’
‘I think you’re right Nett,’ Matt added. ‘Probably for the money they’re getting for our keep too. Let’s just try and not cause ourselves any grief. We don’t want them to send us back to who knows where, do we? If that happened we’d be split up for sure. Our bunkhouse isn’t too bad. We agree on that. At least no-one shouts at us there.’
Their next problem would be arriving at a new school three months after the start of the school year, and that wasn’t going to be easy either, especially as everyone in the senior school and Toby’s primary school were in uniforms whereas the Kruges hadn’t provided them with the proper clothes and the children had to wear their old school kit. This would make them stand out as being odd, and open to unkind jibes. Some made fun of Matt, but none of the humour was vicious and Matt laughed along with them. He tried to explain what all the symbols were on his school blazer pocket and most of the boys were sympathetic. Most knew of the Kruges and Matt gave some amusing take-offs of Old Man Kruge and his accent, much to the delight of the other boys.
Toby fared less well. He looked so odd in his old uniform that he had to endure some strange remarks. ‘Why doesn’t your mother buy you the proper uniform like the rest of us?’ and ‘Is your mother too poor to buy you a proper uniform?’
Nettie had trouble too. Someone said, ‘ “Nettie” – that’s a funny name.’
‘It’s a nickname for “Annette”, my real name,’ Nettie explained.
‘But “Annette” is better than “Nettie”.’
Poor Nettie could only shrug and feel humiliated.
Matt had been able to find out a few extra things about the Kruge’s beginnings in Horsham. Apparently soon after Old Man Kruge had bought the property, he’d sold off a good part of it to two neighbours, keeping only enough to graze forty cows. ‘The rumour is that he had no cash and had to put that money into installing new milking machines in the cowsheds. That’s all I know,’ said Simon Jenner, the most friendly of the boys. ‘And they don’t have any friends. Everyone knows that. They go to the Lutheran church down near where we live.’
‘They have some chooks and the beginnings of a small orchard and a few vegetable patches but that’s about it,’ said Matt. He explained their expectations and how
different it had turned out to be, although their bunkhouse was surprisingly comfortable. ‘It looks pretty gross from the outside but inside we’re not too badly off at all. At least we’re on our own. Better than being squashed up in their house I reckon.’ Simon nodded, but he knew that the three of them would have trouble settling in at the Kruge Farm and secretly felt sorry for them.
It took Mrs Kruge nearly two weeks to grudgingly buy them new uniforms, but they were grateful for them, and glad that they would be less conspicuous from now on. At last the cruel comments would stop for Toby.
After the first day of school, as soon as Old Man Kruge arrived home with the three children, he directed Matt to the milking sheds and started a short lecture on what he expected of him. ‘Pure bred Holstein cows,’ he started off with obvious pride. ‘A type of Friesian. There are forty cows in our herd. They give best milk of all dairy cow breeds in Australia, if we feed them right when they are milked. That is where you are.’ He pointed to the bags of grain and the vat of fresh cut grass he called ‘silage’. ‘These cows have top health, always, so must have plenty of food, and they will eat that while they are milked on the machine. That is why they come at same time each day. You keep the cows’ boxes full always.’ He emphasised this by hitting his fist into his other hand when he said ‘always’.
Matt noticed that Old Man Kruge was speaking in a softer tone than usual, as though he were in his own world now and was talking about something he cared about very much. ‘I put them in their stalls for now. You do that later when you be more careful with them. They must not feel hurried. Or upset. If they are, the milk flow is not good. Do you understand Matt?’
‘Yes Mr Kruge. What’s in the pellets?’ He expected to be shouted at, but no, in the same chatty voice, Mr Kruge explained.
‘I make them. Plenty of barley, oats and I put vitamins in too. That goes into pellets. In summer we put hay in with pellets, instead of cut grass. If there is not any cut grass then that is why,’ and Matt was astonished to see the semblance of a smile in the old man. ‘I grow clover, maize, oats in new plots over there. They will like that. Trees for shade on hot days, but they take a long time to grow tall.
‘I look after the machines for now, but you watch me. I want you to do that too later. I milk them in the morning. All milk goes in that big refrigerated vat over there, and taken out by dairy truck about the time when we have our tea. They take milk to main Horsham dairy supply depot.’
It was four o’clock. The first cows started to arrive and Matt watched as Old Man Kruge guided them carefully into their stalls, marvelling at the cows’ ability to get up with ease onto the raised floor and eventually to back out with confidence. Thank God I’m not expected to milk them by hand, he thought with a shudder. Think of all the things that could go wrong learning to do that. Matt noticed Old Man Kruge examined each cow as it arrived for any sign of sickness or trouble.
Matt couldn’t believe the change in the man. It was as though he were talking about his own family. The cows were obviously his life and their welfare paramount. Once the cows started to arrive there was no time to resent anything. He found he was dashing from pen to pen, topping up the fast disappearing food it seemed he’d only just put there. Everything was ordered and calm and the cows had to feel that way, apparently. Life for the cows in their stalls seemed to be slow, while he dashed around like a maniac.
While he was thinking about the two apparent Old Man Kruges, he heard him shout, ‘You are too slow. The cows are out of food, idiot,’ and he felt a big clout sting him just above his ear.
He spun round holding his head. ‘I can’t go any faster!’ he shouted into Mr Kruge’s face.
‘You go faster,’ shouted Mr Kruge back as he spun on his heel and walked away.
Matt shouted obscenities to the distant Mr Kruge, which were thankfully drowned out by the noise of the machinery. It made him feel better temporarily, but he stopped short as he remembered Toby. The madman would only take it out on the smallest of them, he thought. Matt retreated, trying to calm himself down as he went, and absentmindedly rubbing the sore spot above his ear. ‘He’s a total bastard,’ he said to the nearest tethered cow.
After each milking session the whole dairy had to be scrubbed thoroughly and here Old Man Kruge did his part. He would not trust anyone else to do this. He took no chances of it being anything other than spotless, particularly as it would be regularly checked by the dairy company, with no advance warnings of inspection. It had to be perfect at all times.
Matt wondered how Toby was faring and when Mr Kruge disappeared toward the end of milking, he guessed he was giving Toby his instructions, because he returned with a filthy scowl. Matt began to fear for Toby. Half an hour later the milking was complete and Matt rushed to find him. Toby was in tears. Sobbing, he told Matt that Mr Kruge kept hitting him when the axe didn’t cut much kindling, telling him all the time he was a stupid fool. He showed him a lump that was appearing under his fingers on his forehead. All Toby could do was try and lift the heavy axe and let it fall where it may, hoping it cut something on the way down, and this was dangerous. Toby was frightened of the axe and Matt’s chest constricted at the thought of what could happen, and would inevitably, if Toby kept this up.
Thus a pattern was set. Each night, near the end of milking, Old Man Kruge would disappear. Toby would see him coming and cower in fright while the bully would cuff his head, always calling him some derogatory name because there was not much wood cut, and Matt would hurry to finish Toby’s chore, hoping he was in time to avert an accident.
The trouble was, as Matt became more adept managing the milking time so he could get away to help Toby, he found he was being left to do more and more of the work, while Old Man Kruge just walked about checking leisurely on this and that, having an easy time of it. Sometimes he sat reading the paper, to Matt’s annoyance. Matt was aware that if he kept on going hard at it like this, he would be doing the lot on his own. So he introduced a steady go-slow system, moving the cows in and out of the stalls extra carefully, so that Mr Kruge wouldn’t suspect his motives.
This meant that Matt couldn’t get across to help Toby quickly any more. He gave him a few tips on how to place the sticks and hoped that would help. He showed him how to place his hands more securely round the handle and made sure he didn’t try to lift the axe as high as he’d been doing. As Matt watched over him Toby relaxed and the cutting became a little easier. These are lessons that old goat should have given him, thought Matt. No he shouldn’t. Toby shouldn’t be anywhere near a heavy axe at his age, for God’s sake. Matt stood there gritting his teeth thinking about the oaf who was now controlling their lives.
He made a mental note. I must know where he is and when he is in within striking distance. I must tell the others that too. Toby had told Matt that Old Man Scrooge was now aiming at his shins but Toby had learned how to dodge some of the kicks and laughed as he related how he watched as the old bully nearly fell over.
Things improved when their bikes arrived and they didn’t have to squeeze into the old red truck that Mr Kruge ran about in. Caesar took up the habit of seeing them off the premises. He would dash ahead of them as they walked their bikes to the end of the drive and wait to be patted one by one, giving a goodbye wag of the tail with each pat. It was a pleasant start to the day. For the children, from the moment they rode out of the drive, it was a release until their return.
When they came back from school Caesar would fuss about them until Nettie and Toby went looking for eggs. He had a glorious time sniffing in every nook and cranny trying to find the eggs too. When Nettie went into the house with the eggs to do her homework and chores, he would follow her in and settle in front of the stove. He would stay curled up in his cosy spot until the children went off to their bunkhouse, and he’d follow them there.
Nettie put antiseptic on Toby’s bad leg, wrapped it in the new bandages and washed the old one. The colour isn’t too good, she fretted, so I must do this every night. How on earth will he ride his bike like that? No wonder he’s limping.
Being too early to try and settle down to sleep in the dim light, they played memory games and gin rummy until it was too dark and Matt thought he could play his small mouth organ with nobody living anywhere near. The other two sang softly several rounds of music and a few Christmas carols, but eventually there was no option but to settle for the night. They were feeling very relaxed, satisfied with how things had gone so far, and eventually wriggled into makeshift beds made up from their coats and cardigans. Matt shoved something soft under Toby’s newly dressed leg and they all were glad to turn in for an early night. Just as they became comfortable on the carpet and were drifting off to sleep the room suddenly flooded with light.
They sat up in shock, waiting for whoever had discovered them to charge through the door and take them to the police. No-one appeared, but they dared not move a muscle. No sound could be heard except their hearts, beating in terror.
“Who’s there?” Matt broke the tension with his question. Dead silence.
Matt got up and moved to the lamp that had turned on and put them in a spotlight. He bent over and then laughed. “It’s an automatic switch, to make people think someone lives here,” he said smiling. He bent over to read it again. “I’m afraid it’ll be on for another three hours!” They all laughed with relief and decided to move to another room and settle down again, hoping the light in there didn’t suddenly go on too. All three were sound asleep when the automatic device turned the main lamp off.
The abandoned service station was a great deal further back than Matt remembered, and with all three feeling disappointed, they rode on looking anxiously ahead, with Toby obviously favouring his bad leg. Eventually they saw the station ahead. It certainly didn’t look too flash. Abandoned long ago, the outside paint, originally a smart white, was now faded and dreary, with a bleached red outline here and there. The brick walls were dirty, chipped and cracked, and they could see the old pumps were covered with broken roofing. Remarkably, no windows had been broken yet.
They circled the little building and were delighted to find the back door opened without having to use force. The wooden floor seemed to be more or less intact but when they opened the door Nettie declared matter-of-factly, “Gosh it pongs in here doesn’t it? There’s a stack of empty beer bottles in the corner there. It’s probably from that. Let’s take them outside or we’ll never get to sleep later on.”
“Good idea,” said Matt, grabbing several. “You stay put Toby. Yeah, they do pong don’t they? When we finish this we’ll wash up a bit and have some tea, and that always cheers us up. Pity there’s no hot water, but at least we can fill our water bottles up.”
“It’s not as good as the last two nights,” declared Toby, “but at least it’s not a concrete floor. And we won’t be out in the open, will we?”
“No,” agreed Matt. “We can have some tea soon, before it gets too dark – and just think, we may even get to Parramatta soon if we can pick up a lift tomorrow. How good would that be? I’ll try the café again then. It might be better with a different set of drivers. Different time of day too.”
Out of the blue Nettie asked, “I wonder what the Kruges think has happened to us?”
“I think they’ll know by now that we’ve taken off. Toby, let’s see that leg of yours again.” Toby obliged. “It still looks pretty crook to me.”
“It doesn’t hurt all that much really but I thought the bruising would have faded by now.”
Matt was looking very serious. “I think we’ll have to get you to a doctor Toby, or a hospital.”
“No Matt. They’d be sure to tell the police. I’m terrified that if anyone finds out about us we’d be sent back to Horsham. Please don’t Matt! Please! It isn’t any worse than it’s been.”
“I admit it would be hard to get in and out of a doctor’s surgery or a hospital without someone querying us,” Matt said thoughtfully. “Well, we’ll smother it with our antiseptic and put on a new bandage. And we’ll check it tomorrow, but if it gets any worse, we might have to get some medical attention, Toby.”
Toby started to sniff into his hanky. “I promise to tell you if it feels worse, Matt.” He looked up at his big brother with tears in his eyes. “We might be in Parramatta by tomorrow.”
Matt sat thinking for a while and then agreed. “OK for now, Tobes. I don’t want to go back either, but if that leg worsens we must do something about it, mate.”
Toby was staring vacantly out of a little window while Nettie produced a clean bandage and wound it round the bad leg. “At least the long pants are keeping it as clean as we can,” she said, and gave him a bright smile of encouragement.
Matt had been wondering why the police hadn’t been looking for them for five days. He said seriously, “I don’t think the Kruges will want to let the police know anything about us. They certainly won’t want us found with all that evidence of bad treatment on your leg Toby. We left on Tuesday, and this is only Friday, although it seems longer than that. They wouldn’t know that we have a bit of money for one thing, so they’d be expecting us to turn up back there soon, probably.”
“No way!” said Nettie with such vigour that the other two laughed.
Matt was thoughtful again. “Am I making you walk too much, or do too much? I haven’t been thinking how tired you both are.”
Toby and Nettie grinned at Matt. “Of course not. We didn’t expect to get this far so quickly, and we know what you mean; it seems ages since we left the Kruges. It hasn’t been too bad so far.”
And indeed, munching away on sandwiches filled with tomatoes and spread, it wasn’t too bad. They also had a selection of fruit, plus a treat from their thoughtful older brother – a couple of Mars Bars.
As it became darker Matt brought out the guitar. “No-one to hear us this time, so let’s have a singsong.” They always felt cheered up by a bit of music and afterwards, between yawns, Toby started to reminisce about the performance at the school, and how much fun it had been. As usual they tidied up, packed all their things ready for a quick early morning exit, and settled for the night in a line, with backs up against a bit of wall to minimise the drafts. They were soon fast asleep.
* * * *
The children woke in fright with a bright light shining full on their faces. A huge man was stumbling round the room in a drunken state, shouting at them. As Matt put his arm up against the bright light he saw a red-faced man with dirty, untidy whiskers, cursing in the dark.
“Get out of my squat,” he yelled. They sprang up to their bikes, grabbing their things, as the frightening old man yelled again, “This is my squat. Get out!” Over and over. Nettie realised that he had the same unpleasant smell as the beer bottles they’d thrown outside. Matt tried to place himself between the two young ones but as Nettie tried to push past the horrible creature to safety with Matt, he grabbed at her and leered, “But she can stay,” and laughed an awful croaky laugh. Nettie’s hands were shaking with fright, and they scrambled out, with Matt giving one last look to see they’d left nothing behind.
All three had shaky legs but they hurried away as quickly as possible, mounting their bikes in total fright. The big man was still roaring obscenities at them from the doorway. Sore legs and backs were forgotten as they rode as hard as they could to put some distance between them and the smelly wretch, whose laugh seemed to follow them down the street.