The Hidden Kitchen of Dreamer’s Garden was only half hidden really. Those that were hungry knew where to find it. And those who were truly interested in helping the poor and needy eventually tracked it down. A carpenter from Rustington and his brothers arrived one morning and went to work on some of burned out buildings near the alley. A couple of bricklaying cousins joined them and together they turned the shells into dormitories for the children. A lady from Hightown Street and a merchant captain from Vistamar found the place and donated more flour and lentils.
In the center of all this was Samson Mudd, husband and father. He and his wife looked after the children and assigned rooms in the new dormitories and ran the kitchen itself. Or so it appeared.
In reality Samson was studying as hard a scholar and his professor was a small boy all of twelve years old. In private he’d half brag half confess to his wife and daughters that was almost half as good a cook as Joshua Sage.
But Joshua had no complaints about his student. In the last few days there was less and less to teach. He rarely cooked the evening meal and left that to Samson. Under his eye Mr. Mudd practiced his chopping (he had his own set of knives now donated by the merchant from Vistamar) his mixing, his stewing and his seasoning. Samson followed his instructions perfectly. The basics had taken only a few days.
“The hard part is the timing,” Joshua told him. “Everything has to be ready to serve at the proper time. That’s hard enough for just six or seven. It’s really complicated when you’re cooking for a hundred.”
Samson nodded and practiced hard. Joshua made note of his progress and counted the days. He was getting everything ready for the day when he would leave Dreamer’s Garden, the alley and the (formerly) Hidden Kitchen.
“You could stay here,” Mrs. Mudd told him. “All of this praise we’re receiving rightfully belongs to you.”
“The kids here eat a good meal and enjoy it, that’s all the praise I need. Besides this kitchen is already too big for me to handle. Do you think all these people coming down here to volunteer would take their orders from a twelve year old? Samson Mudd is what the place needs now.”
He didn’t say it but he had another reason for leaving. Joshua didn’t feel safe there anymore. Something in the back of his brain told him it was dangerous to stay in one place too long or to become too well known. What was this danger that he felt closing in? He couldn’t say exactly. He knew it had something to do with that shadowy figure he’d caught a glimpse of weeks ago but beyond that it was just an intuition. Joshua decided to follow that intuition.
He was going to leave Dreamer’s Garden and go on to whatever waited for him. That much was decided. The real question was who was going with him.
First he asked Dina.
“Do you want to come? Or do you want to stay here with your new friends, Mina, Nina and Christina?”
Dina made her feelings clear. She clung to Joshua’s leg and wouldn’t let go for the entire day.
The twins also wouldn’t stay.
“All these volunteers, we’re no longer needed.”
“The first thing they did was take apart our beautiful benches so they could bring in ‘real’ ones.”
“They won’t let us use their nails and hammers.”
“You’ll let us build stuff, wont you?”
And where they went, Lucinda was sure to follow.
“You aren’t going anywhere without me,” Heathcliff promised.
Sophie was more complicated. She didn’t actually live with them. She always left at night despite numerous pleas to stay, yet she always appeared again the next day.
She told them, “The city is my home. Wherever you go, I won’t be too far behind.”
So the day finally arrived.
Joshua rose from a donated mattress. It was smelly and full of holes but it was comfortable than the old rolled up quilt which now went back to its original purpose and covered him and Heathcliff during the night. It took him a few moments but finally he realized this would be the last time he’d wake up in the alley. It had changed quite a bit since then. The volunteers had started to extend the new roof from the dining hall. Joshua peered up through the boards that blocked out the sky.
He tried not to laugh. He remembered not that long ago he worried about finding shelter for the winter. Now, just as he was leaving, the alley would soon have a proper roof.
“Do you know where we’re going?”
Heathcliff sat up next to him on the squeaky mattress and yawned.
“I guess we start at Rustington.”
“Your food cart idea?”
Joshua shrugged. He had no clear idea what he’d do next. That was part of the excitement.
“There’s always room for another food cart.”
“Told you we’d get to Rustington. Didn’t I?”
“That you did.”
“Maybe we’ll get to Vistamar next, or the Old City.”
The others stirred awake.
“Is it today?” Dina asked.
“Yes it is.”
They all gathered just outside the old alley. They were joined by the Mudds and many of the children. Dina was mobbed by a crowd of weeping little girls. The twins and the Mudd girls exchanged gifts. Joshua talked with Peter and his brother and sister.
Samson Mudd took Joshua aside and handed him something wrapped in a white cloth.
“I want you to have this. I’d been saving it for a while.”
He pulled back the cloth and revealed a pound of salted pork. Its white fat glistened in the sunlight.
“I couldn’t. You should share this,” Joshua protested.
“I can’t share it. Not unless I can cut this up into a hundred pieces. Please take it.”
The morning was half gone by the time they finished with their goodbyes. It was nearly time for the Mudds to start on the midday meal. Joshua and his friends gathered in the middle of the street. They waved goodbye to Dreamers Garden and then started off.