CHAPTER 20

As Joshua rolled over to get to sleep he felt a nudge in his back. It was Heathcliff’s hard elbow.

“Joshua, are you asleep?”

“What is it?”

“I was thinking.”

He said no more. Joshua yawned and waited for him to continue. “You’re always thinking. Was it about something important this time?”

“Yes. Well I think so. Do you know where I got the bowls from? The Charity Kitchen.”

“You stole them?”

“They were practically throwing them away they were. Dropping them all over the place out back near the kitchen. But that’s not important. That rotter is still there with his gang.”

“Benjamin Bastion?”

“That’s his name. Still shaking down any kid that tries to come in for a hot meal.”

“Well, that’s one thing we’ll never have to worry about again.”

“Yeah. But a lot of other kids like us got to worry about it. Just makes me feel a little guilty.”

“Don’t. It’s not our problem.”

As he said the words Joshua tasted the bitterness in his mouth again.

They all awoke the next day excited. The twins were eager to start work on a wash basin and maybe a small oven to go alongside the grill. Heathcliff was off to find spices, vinegar, sugar, eggs and anything else he could lay his hands on. Lucinda and Dina were anxious to learn more from Joshua. After Heathcliff left with his reed pole, Ollie and Rollie cleaned a metal sink they pulled from a rubbish heap. Joshua took the girls aside and showed them how to make noodles by mixing flour and water.

“It’ll taste better if Heathcliff can get us some eggs. We’ll practice on flour and water for now.”

“We can’t waste flour,” Lucinda protested.

“Who said anything about waste? When we’re done we’ll cut your practice dumplings into noodles and have them for a midday snack.”

For dinner, Joshua picked out a pumpkin he’d saved. He planned to roast it, mash it and stuff it into little dumplings. With eggs he could make a lighter pasta.

Joshua chuckled to himself for a moment. New ideas and information leapt into his head so frequently he barely noticed anymore. He just let the knowledge take him. His hands seemed to know exactly what to do at any given moment. Though he’d never been taught himself, he knew Dina pressed to hard on the dowel as she rolled out her little circles of dough.

“We should sell these,” Dina said.

There’s an idea I hadn’t thought of.

“Maybe we should.”

“Sell to whom?” Lucinda asked.

“We can start with the Bungle Downers,” Dina offered

Joshua cut off Lucinda before she could protest. “Don’t say a word, they’re good people.”

“Perhaps but they haven’t any money,” she said.

“But they can trade. Dumplings for ingredients, utensils, maybe even work our way up to trade for our own cart. Then we can take that cart into Rustington and sell to the workers when they break for lunch.”

How much money is in that, he wondered silently. It doesn’t matter. Whatever we make will be a treasure compared to what we have now. And if the dumplings or soups or whatever sell well, we’ll be able to ditch the cart and open a proper shop.

Then he thought it was crazy to dream so big. But then he glanced around. Where there had once been six starving children huddled in a pair of crates there was now a grill, a shelf, a table, and six well fed children.

Six plus one, he added. He wondered what story Sophie would tell tonight. He really didn’t like the stories so much as he liked the way she told them.

“Why do you have that silly look on your face?” asked Lucinda.

He tried to shrug it off but he felt himself blushing..

Dina giggled.

“I know what he was thinking about,” she piped.

She grinned and said no more.

“Too much daydreaming,” Lucinda muttered.

Heathcliff returned with his bounty, a bottle of wine vinegar, a basket of eggs, a small pouch with a few precious cloves, and a tiny crock of butter. Joshua ran his finger along the creamy golden surface and tasted it. It was rich and had no trace of salt.

“Unless the twins can build us an ice box, this will go rancid by tomorrow,” he told Heathcliff.

“Then you’d better use it tonight,” Heathcliff answered.

Joshua and the girls prepared the midday snack. Their practice dumplings were sliced into thin noodles and tossed into a boiling pot. Joshua drained them and tossed them with salt, olive oil, pepper and a bit of the cloves.

“Just flour and water,” Heathcliff said in amazement as he gobbled down his noodles.

“Flour, water, salt, pepper, cloves and olive oil,” Lucinda corrected him.

“Still, just mainly flour and water. Joshua, is that really all it takes to feed a person? If so why is there any hunger?

There’s flour everywhere. There must be enough flour to cover the city like a snow storm.”

Joshua thought for a moment.

“I supposed they could if they really wanted to. Give everyone their own sack of flour.”

In the back of his head it seemed like he’d had this argument before with someone else. But how could that be since he only just started making pasta yesterday?

“They’ll never do that,” Lucinda said.

“Why not?” Heathcliff complained.

Joshua shrugged and said, “Maybe they don’t really want to.”

It was an offhand remark. Joshua had said it before about a number of things. But now it stuck in his mind because now he was certain that there was a “They”, persons of power or a single person who was ordering things in the city just so. The citizens went without free flour because this person had decided it. He was certain of it, as certain as had been that the striped river fish were poisonous. And that certainty gave him a sort of dread.

Ollie and Rollie raised their hands.

“Joshua, can Nan and Georgie come to dinner, please?” they both asked.

“Of course,” Lucinda said for him.

Joshua was grateful to have something else to occupy his thoughts. He began preparations for dinner.

The pumpkin was roasted over the grill until the flesh was squishy soft and the skin an orange brown color. He waited for it to cool down while Lucinda and Dina mixed the eggs with the flour to make the dough and then rolled out little dumplings just as they practiced earlier. Joshua also chopped dandelion and lettuce for a salad with olive oil, salt, pepper and vinegar. When the pumpkin was cool, he scooped out its soft flesh, mixed it with salt, pepper and a touch of cloves. He then filled each small dumpling with a spoonful of pumpkin. He and the girls sealed the dumplings and they were dumped into boiling water. When they were done Joshua drained them then threw them into a hot pan with the butter. The butter melted and formed a rich sauce with the dumplings.

Lucinda and Dina served up the dumplings and salad when the twins arrived with the Mudd girls. The girls looked sullen and downcast. Before Joshua could ask them what was the matter, Sophie appeared.

“Sophie, I’m looking forward to tonight’s tale,” he said.

She had a worried frown.

“Joshua, there are two people at the mouth of the alley. Grown ups,” she pointed back towards the entrance.

There stood two ragged forms, Mr. and Mrs. Mudd.

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