Joshua yawned and stretched out.
“I’ve never felt this tired,” he said.
“You shouldn’t work so hard. You’ll exhaust yourself” Lucinda said.
“Tomorrow I’ll help you do…well whatever you need. You decide.”
“Can I help too?” Dina asked in that voice that couldn’t be refused.
“You can help Lucinda help me,” Joshua answered.
“I know what I’ll do tomorrow,” Heathcliff said as he flipped his reed pole into the air and twirled it around.
“What else do you need?”
“I’ll give a grocery list in the morning.”
Then it was the twins turn to speak up.
“We can help with the kitchen,” said Ollie.
“We can put that table up on legs,” said Rollie.
“And make a cabinet for your pots.”
“And a basin to wash them in.”
“Those are pretty big jobs. Are you sure you can do all that?” Joshua asked.
Lucinda said, “They always used to build stuff when their parents were here. But everything they built fell apart.”
“We’ve gotten better,” Ollie said.
“Much better,” said Rollie.
“What can I do?” Sophie asked.
“Story!” answered Dina, the twins and Heathcliff.
Sophie let out a laugh.
“Oh, but I want to do something real. I’ll feel so useless just telling stories.”
“It’s not useless,” Joshua said.
“I could use a story, too,” said Lucinda.
Sophie relented and sat herself down in front of them. She told them the story of the first Prince of the City and how he searched far in wide for his true love. When she’d finished, they all yawned and were ready for bed. Sophie bid them goodbye and promised to be back for dinner the next day. Joshua watched her go and thought about what Lucinda said about her, that there was something she was hiding from them. He didn’t think it was true. Sure Sophie liked to tell stories; she was great at it. But she wasn’t dishonest about it in any way that he could see.
She did seem a little odd, though. Joshua couldn’t put his finger on it but there was something about Sophie that was different from his friends and from every other street urchin he’d met.
But then again, now he was different as well.
Joshua and his friends crawled back into their rolled up quilts and slept. This time he fell asleep quickly even though he could feel the hard ground beneath the quilt. He was tired in ever fiber of his body, but more than that he was satisfied. He was glad to be so tired. His labor had given his friends a great meal and made them happy. He thought there was no better way to go to sleep.
The next morning they woke and assembled like an army. Lucinda acted as sergeant and kept the others primed and ready while Joshua reviewed their stores and planned the meal. They still had a sizable bounty from the old garden and dandelions sprouted between the cracks in the street. He thought he would make a soup but they had no bowls. Then he looked back at the others who waited for him to give them their orders.
He said, “Heathcliff, can you find us some bowls?”
“Of course,” Heathcliff answered.
Joshua thought about what else he could use.
Cream? No, it would only turn rancid. Butter? He’d have to clarify it, but maybe. No. No. I have to keep this simple. I have the flour and salt and oil. But there’s something missing. I need something to add flavor.
Joshua said, “Pepper. If you can find it.”
“If I can find it, I’ll get it,” Heathcliff declared.
He trotted off with his reed pole.
“Now what can we do while we wait for him?” Joshua asked.
“How about a shelf?” offered Ollie.
“For all your stuff,” said Rollie.
They pointed to pots and knives which sat on a board on the ground.
“That’d be nice but don’t you need tools?” Joshua asked.
They had wood all around them. But Joshua thought to make anything they’d need a saw, a hammer, and most certainly nails.
“No we thought of something,” Ollie said.
The two of them darted about the piles of debris and gathered boards, pieces of pipe and string, lots of string.
Joshua and Lucinda held the piece of pipe steady as Ollie and Rollie wrapped the string around like two spiders furiously spinning a web. They fitted the boards in between the pipes and secured them with double and triple knots. When they leaned it against the wall it was a shelf. Joshua tested it with a few pots. It did not fall over, the strings did not snap or break. Joshua stacks his pots, knives, spoons, and serving planks inside.
“Well?” the twins asked together.
It would hold. He wasn’t about to let them build a roof over the alley with nothing but string but this would certainly do for a shelf.
“You did a good job,” Joshua said.
“A really good job,” added Lucinda.
The twins let out a whoop of delight and started on their next project.
At this rate we’ll have all the furnishings before we have a proper house.
The twins made a table while he talked to Lucinda and Dina on what he wanted them to do. It felt strange to Joshua to teach them techniques he hadn’t been taught but still knew somehow. He had Dina wash and clean.
“Keep all the vegetable scraps in this pot. The next morning we’ll boil them with water to make a stock,” he told her.
“What’s a stock,” Dina asked.
The explanation jumped into Joshua’s brain. All he had to do was open his mouth.
“There are flavors in vegetables, meats, bones, herbs that can dissolve in water. When you boil them in water, you extract the flavor. And that’s called a stock.”
He hoped Dina didn’t ask how he knew that. But she just nodded.
For Lucinda he showed her how to peel with the small knife. It was a little trickier and it took her a few practice carrots to get it right. Joshua demonstrated her how to slice and chop with the big knife.
“But I’ll do the chopping for now. Just watch and we’ll practice together,” Joshua said.
He worried Lucinda might cut herself, as careful as she was. His knives were big enough to inflict serious injury. And his new knowledge didn’t include what to do if someone sliced their finger off or badly burned their hands. He wondered if he should even risk exposing all of them to fire, hot metal and sharp knives.
We face risks everyday, he thought. It might as well be for something worth while.
They helped Ollie and Rollie finish the table. Now Joshua could stand up and work. They snacked on dandelions washed, sprinkled with a little salt and oil.
Heathcliff arrived with several wooden bowls in a sack along with a small tin of pepper corns. When they asked where he got them from, Heathcliff smiled and answered, “It’s truly amazing what you can find just lying around.”
Then Joshua got to work with the help of Lucinda and Dina. Dina washed the vegetables, Lucinda peeled them, and Joshua sliced and chopped. With three of them, the work went even faster. He threw carrots, turnips, potatoes, leeks, tomatoes, and garlic into a pot with water and salt and brought them to a boil. The garden had yielded a good bunch of fava beans. Joshua was glad for Lucinda and Dina’s help because they needed to be peeled twice. Dina poked the beans out of their pods and Lucinda squeezed the bitter second peel off each bean. Joshua got a pot of salted water boiling. He threw in the peeled fava beans for a few minutes then drained them, dipped them in cold water, then tossed them with oil and salt. He took a wooden spoon to the pot of cooked vegetables and mashed them into a creamy soup. The precious pepper he ground in one of the bowls and sprinkled it gently into the soup.
Joshua got ready to fry leaves of washed spinach with garlic when he saw Ollie and Rollie near the entrance to the alley with two little girls.
He stopped what he was doing and stood straight and stiff. Anger welled up inside him.
Joshua recognized the two little girls with the twins, Nan and Georgie Mudd, Mr. Mudd’s daughters.