It’s my turn on the wonderful Rainbow Advent Calendar today, so I hope you enjoy the story below, featuring characters from my adaptation of Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. Have a wonderful festive period!
A Walk in the Snow by Eleanor Musgrove
Trudging through ankle-deep snow was a chore, in Anne’s opinion, even when one had on a sturdy pair of boots. Every step took a little more effort, every footfall just a little more likely to slip. Yes, snow was a chore – and, like most chores, it became much more pleasant when shared with a friend. Especially when that friend absolutely loved the snow.
“I love the snow,” Bess announced cheerfully, not for the first time during the short walk from the village. Anne had one last customer to deliver newly-altered clothing to, and then she and Bess would part ways. “Especially out on these empty roads, where nobody will laugh at me for playing in it.”
“I might,” Anne teased, though she had no intention of doing any such thing. “Besides, you should be more careful out here, on your beloved empty roads. Haven’t you heard there’s a highwayman abroad?”
“Ooh, yes. There’s another reason to walk slowly. That would be exciting, wouldn’t it?”
“I doubt Tristan would steal from you,” Anne conceded reluctantly, “but I wish you wouldn’t put him in a position where he might risk encountering you.”
“Oh, I’ve nothing to steal. But it would be thrilling, to see the notorious highwayman at work. And out here on this deserted road, with nobody to see us – why, any unscrupulous person could do anything.”
Anne bit back a growl; this was exactly why she didn’t want Bess to walk these roads alone with such delight, why she had rearranged her rounds to go to the Wilson house last, so she could walk her beloved halfway back to the inn she called home. An unscrupulous person meeting Bess on the road – especially when Bess’ hero, Tristan, wasn’t around to save her – was Anne’s very worst nightmare.
“Oh, Anne?” She looked up from where she’d been frowning at her own feet, and a snowball promptly hit her in the face. She’d been worrying about the wrong unscrupulous person all along.
“Bess! I’ve Mrs Wilson’s new gown here, and she won’t want it wet!”
“Oh. Sorry. Is it-?”
“It’s fine. But save the snow-throwing until we’ve dropped it off, will you?” She expected Bess to be disappointed, but the other woman’s expression was triumphant. Anne realised she’d committed to walking a little further with Bess, after all her earlier protests. “Oh, fine. I’ll walk you home. But then I really do have to get back.”
Once they’d dropped off Anne’s last delivery of the day, they headed back towards the inn. Bess would be safer, as well as happier, with her best friend at her side, and now that Anne’s hands were free she could even hold Bess’ hand, just two layers of glove separating them.
“Aren’t you worried someone will see?” Bess frowned at her, and Anne shook her head.
“It’s not like if you were seen with Tristan. Nobody’s going to look twice at two friends holding hands. Besides, there’s nobody out in this weather.” Anne was dreading the lonely walk home, herself, but at least she wasn’t in danger from their local highwayman – and if anyone else tried anything, she had Tristan’s knife strapped safely inside her boot. Most of the others who lived in the village wouldn’t take the risk, anyway. They were alone on the road. “Could even get away with this,” she added impishly, and pressed a kiss to Bess’ lips. They felt warm, despite the cold, or perhaps Anne only imagined that they did. Either way, the kiss made her cheeks burn, and Bess blushed in answer.
“Oh, could we? More than once, do you think?”
“Only one way to find out.”
They did get away with it, several times, before Anne almost lost her footing and had to clutch wildly at Bess for support. After that, they decided to focus on where they were putting their feet, moving steadily on towards the inn.
“Do you have time to stop for a drink?” Bess asked, as they picked their way carefully between particularly slippery-looking patches.
“I’m afraid not. I’ll have to rush home as it is, I’m working tonight-” She cut herself off with a splutter as a ball of snow hit her in the face; Bess let go of her hand in shock as they both looked around for their unknown assailant.
Bess spotted him first.
“Tim, you little imp!” Squinting through the snow clinging to her eyelashes, Anne watched as the inn’s young ostler stepped out from his place behind a tree.
“Sorry. I was aiming for Bess.”
“I shouldn’t set your heart on joining the artillery, then,” she teased – but Tim, as ever, only had eyes for Bess. Anne could hardly blame him for that; she had a hard time tearing her gaze away from her, herself, but she made the effort.
“What are you doing all the way out here?” Bess was asking, and Tim shrugged.
“Your dad sent me to make sure you got home safe- argh!” Anne’s hastily-packed snowball hit him right in the chest, knocking him backwards a few steps. She raised her hands in surrender to ward off any retaliation.
“There, now we’re even. Bess, if Tim’s seeing you home, I should probably get back myself.”
“All right, but let me give you a hug for the road. Keep you warm.”
Bess wrapped her arms around her and took the opportunity to whisper in her ear.
“Coming back tonight?”
“Hardly safe for a young woman to wander the roads at night,” Anne told her sternly, “Tristan might, though.”
“Oh, yes. He’ll come to you by moonlight.” Anne grinned as she pulled back from Bess’ embrace. “You take care of her now, Tim, see you both get home safe.”
“I will, Miss.” The young ostler nodded solemnly, and Bess took the opportunity to drop a handful of snow on his head. “Argh! But first, war. Will you be all right getting home? With the highwayman, and everything?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine. Highwaymen don’t scare me.”
She turned, at a bend in the road, to see the two she’d just left running around, hurling snow at one another, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. As she watched, Bess raised her hands in surrender, slinging her arm around Tim’s shoulders and turning them both back towards her father’s inn. Anne smiled to herself and turned back towards her own home.
Bess really did love the snow… and Anne loved Bess.
Thanks for reading this story. If this time of year puts you in a charitable mood, please consider supporting Shelter or the Albert Kennedy Trust. Thanks again, enjoy the rest of the calendar, and have a wonderful holiday season!