Chapter XL

‘Can I help?’

Amanda looked up, her arms full of the firewood she’d spent the last hour collecting, to find herself looking straight into the perfect face of Whatshername, Carla’s friend.

‘Let me take some of those,’ Beatrix said, rather stiffly, leaning down to unburden the middle-aged woman.

It was the morning after she’d overheard that fateful conversation. She’d hardly slept the night before, worrying over anything and everything. And the result of a sleepless night? A resolution.

She was determined to adapt to this strange world. She was determined to be, if nothing else, helpful. And so this was her first ever attempt.

‘Thank you,’ Amanda said at length, her eyes narrowing at this uncharacteristic helpfulness.

For a whole day, Beatrix was useful - running errands, collecting firewood, helping to rebuild broken walls of shelters. But her real trial by fire was that evening, when she came to cook dinner.

‘Beatrix, would you be a dear and cook supper for me?’ Louise asked, pushing her youngest child up onto her hip, a worried frown creasing her brow. ‘Only Miranda’s got a bit of a fever, and I ought to tend to her...’

‘Of course,’ Beatrix said with a smile that wasn’t completely forced. She’d found being helpful surprisingly rewarding, however backbreaking and difficult it was.

‘Thank you,’ Louise said, and her smile was completely genuine. It hadn’t taken the women long to realise that Beatrix had changed, apparently overnight, and accept her new state of mind. ‘There’s peas and mushrooms in the pot. Just make a quick stew, I suggest. And Moll’s got some bread. Oh, and there’s some chestnuts somewhere...’

And with that, Louise disappeared inside her hut, leaving a dismayed Beatrix behind, wondering what on earth she should do with all this food.

It took her ten minutes to find the pot with the peas and mushrooms, and another ten to figure out how to put it over the lit fire. Almost immediately, a thick smell rose from it, and she coughed, hoping this smell meant it was cooking nicely and would soon be done.

‘What’re you doing? You’re burning it!’

Beatrix jumped as Moll hurtled in and doused the fire with the pail of water she was carrying. The wood hissed and smoked.

‘You need to boil the water first,’ Moll explained slowly, as if to a child. ‘And then chop up the mushrooms and put them and the peas in. You can roast the chestnuts in the embers once you’ve finished cooking. I’ll get them for you now. And,’ she looked sorrowfully at her empty pail, ‘some more water.’

The End

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