Anton Dappledawn hugged his knees, trying to stay positive.
"Hungry!" Heather cried. It was the only word she knew, and she said it often. Her lip wobbled - a sure sign of an incoming tornado. But the storm didn't come. Heather simply slumped down on the grass, too tired to kick up a fuss. "Hungry," she whimpered, giving up.
"I'm sure they'll be here soon," Anton promised, his voice lacking the singsong tones the two little girls so needed to hear. Grace leant against his body and closed her eyes.
The children were sitting on a lone bench, the only feature they could see in the desolate landscape around them. This had been the last stop of the apologetic bus driver who had dropped them off some three hours ago. Anton tried not to think of the sinking sun and dropping temperature. They would come. They had to.
Anton, Heather and Grace were not related, but they were all each other had. For these three children were orphans, sent across seas and strange lands, seeking some home to take them in. Here, on the Island of Rut, there seemed to be none. Anton's characteristic positivity was reaching breaking point.
But then - could it be? A flash of red on the crest of a hill, reflecting the light in a very unnatural manner. A car!
"Heather, Grace, look!" Anton felt quite ready to break into song. Hope, quite literally on the horizon. And approaching!
Heather leapt up, suddenly full of energy. In her young mind she could make the connections; and they were good! Cars meant people, and people meant... FOOD. She tried to run forward but Anton caught her just in time. He meant to check out the driver of this car first himself, for he was a wary child, never one to trust. Grace seemed to share his unease, as she grasped at his fingers desperately, too little to verbally communicate her fear.
A large man got out the car and came round to face them. He seemed a cheery enough fellow, though giant. Anton placed his arms over the girls protectively.
"How good to see you children! I trust you were not waiting long?" The man's voice was jolly, Anton was surprised to hear such genuine happiness in a voice. It was not something he had ever heard before, he was sure of that.
"Oh, we've not been waiting too long," Anton lied politely. Heather looked up to her surrogate protector, seemingly in disagreement.
"Hungry!" she bleated, as if he had somehow forgot. The large man chuckled and pulled a sizeable biscuit out his pocket. Heather's face broke out into a magnificent smile. Despite not having had very many at all in her short life, she knew exactly what he was holding. Looking to Anton for permission, she waited for his slight nod before rushing forward and snatching the gorgeous looking jammy dodger. By the time she had hastily scurried back to Anton the biscuit was mere crumbs on her chin.
Shyly Anton took a step forward and offered his hand to the giant. The man seemed a little amused, but to his credit he withheld another chuckle and shook the little boy's hand amicably.
"Arthur Osborne," he introduced himself, "but please, call me Art. Arthur if you so prefer."
"Pleased to meet you sir." Anton's manners were impeccable, almost unnervingly so for a child so young. Arthur Osborne smiled sadly as he looked to these three slight children. They badly needed nourishment, he thought - and not only of the food sort.
"You must be Heather then," Arthur said, shaking himself back to the moment. The little girl with the impish face and full cheeks grinned. "And, oh my dear, this must be Grace."
Little Grace was fast asleep on the bench, snoring quietly.
Arthur took Anton's small suitcase, the only luggage for the three of them. As he put it into the back Anton sorted the girls out, strapping Heather into a car seat and tucking Grace up in another, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead.
The car travelled up and down the rolling hills, passing through deep valleys that divided colossal mountains in two. Anton watched the scenery as Arthur chatted on, his words only half processed by the young girls and the distracted Anton. Slowly Heather began to drift off, and then Anton began to lose his fight against sleep. Arthur smiled as he looked to the three dozing children. They would be there soon.
About an hour later, Arthur gave Anton a gentle nudge and called softly to the girls in the back. "We're here," he told them brightly. The children awoke suddenly, eyes widened at the view from the window. Anton had never seen a building so fine in all his life! Surely this couldn't be it? He was used to dereliction, to making do... Could it be that this feat of architecture marked a new era? Of safety, security, certainty...?
Arthur backed the car into the drive and smiled reassuringly to the children.
Anton got out of the car, mouth agape. He didn't take his eyes off the mansion as he helped the girls from the car. Heather seemed equally impressed, and wasn't even demanding a post-nap snack. Grace's little eyes were struggling to take it all in, and she seemed a little intimidated. Anton took her hand as the doors opened and people seemed to appear from every direction.
Children were everywhere, and not the children that Anton had grown up living with. These children were happy, plump, energetic. A weight seemed to roll off his shoulders like a wave and he squeezed little Grace's hand.
"We're home," he whispered.
* * *
After a light supper and helping the girls to bed with Arthur's wife, Carol, an exhausted Anton was shown to his room.
"This is your bunk up here," Arthur indicated. "Have a good night's sleep, and if you need anything, even in the middle of the night, remember Carol and I are just upstairs."
"Thank you sir," Anton replied courteously, quite overwhelmed from his day.
"Arthur, please. Goodnight, Anton. Goodnight boys."
"Goodnight sir - I mean - Arthur."
Arthur smiled as he made for the stairs. Soon, Anton would feel comfortable here. He was quite sure of that.
Anton sat on his bunk with his only worldly possessions. Did this feel like home? Not quite. Not yet. But soon.
A special thanks to Eaton Blackberry for Anton Dappledawn, who was a surprise gift in the trade that also included Grace. Thank you!