Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Finding a friend

Jenny looked up at the stars. She didn’t know why, but it seemed important to stare into the darkness on the first night in her new home. She couldn’t remember the sky around the old cottage where they lived before. It was in the middle of the village. There were always lights from the houses or farm buildings.

Here, there was nothing for miles and miles. The only shape she had seen as twilight disappeared was a huge fir tree on the horizon. It stood alone against a vast, unbroken darkness filled with tiny, sparkling, pinpricks of light.

“The tree doesn’t have any friends,” Jenny thought to herself. “Just like me.”

Her mother came out into the porch. “Jenny, whatever are you doing?”

“Looking at the stars.”

“Come inside you silly child, you’re letting heat out of the house and you’re not even wearing your coat!” Grabbing Jenny’s arm, her mother drew her indoors. It was seven o’clock on a cold November evening and time for bed, no matter what her daughter might think.

The next day Jenny started at her new school. It was a long way from her home and she had to walk down the hill to some houses in the valley where two other girls caught the school bus. Jenny’s mother knew their mother. They went potato picking together in the autumn. Jenny sat on her own in the seat in front of the two sisters.

When the bus stopped outside a high stone wall in the middle of the village, the girls took Jenny through a yellow wooden door into the playground. Almost as soon as they arrived, a small, middle aged woman with dark hair tied up in a bun came outside ringing a bell. The children jostled each other as they went into the small cloakroom to hang up their coats and hats.

“Here’s your peg, Jenny,” said the headmistress, Mrs Brown. “I’ve written your name on a card by the side. When you’ve taken off your coat, I will show you where you are sitting.”

Jenny went with Mrs Brown into the large room. One half was filled with desks in front of a large stove surrounded by a fireguard. The other half was empty with a piano in one corner and trestle tables and benches stacked up along the walls.

“Over there is where we do gym and eat our lunch,” Mrs Brown explained. “This is your desk. Your exercise and text books are all inside. You will need to put your name on them and make sure they don’t get lost.”

Jenny looked at the desk. It was right at the front of the class where everyone could see her. Everyone else’s desk was in a pair, so children could sit by their friends, but Jenny’s was alone. She took a deep breath and sat down in her chair. A door beside Mrs Brown’s desk opened and all the infant children came in for morning assembly. The school day had begun.

Jenny liked school. She knew most of her times tables and didn’t mind standing in front of the fireguard in turn to recite while Mrs Brown took the register each morning. She loved reading and enjoyed writing stories and copying the writing off the board when they did history and geography on Mondays and Tuesday.

Her favourite day was Wednesday when the girls did sewing and the boys made things from bits of wood on the dining tables. The little girls started with square mats embroidered with pulled thread work then progressed to felt purses and stuffed toys.

Jenny was working on a dressing table set for her mother. It was made from blue material and she had chosen white and red threads for the decoration. In the centre she carefully made a spider’s web, weaving the silks under and over the threads Mrs Brown had sewn for her.

Jenny loved the spider’s web because it reminded her of the full moon. She loved the moon and always looked for it when she woke up in the morning to see it was still in the sky.

One week, Mrs Brown was ill and Mr Heath taught them. When Wednesday came, he told the girls they would be making cardboard animals on the dining tables with the boys. They had to cut out the shapes, colour them in and then glue the pieces together.

Jenny was sitting opposite Andrew Pulham, the vicar’s son. Andrew was a year older than Jenny. Soon he would be sitting the eleven plus so he could go to the big school in Northleach. Jenny was carefully sticking her elephant’s legs on when he suddenly leaned across and painted the backs of both her hands with glue. Jenny looked up at him in horror.

“You’re far too clean and tidy,” he said, daring her to say anything to him. Helen Morris, who was the same age as Jenny, gave her some paper towel to wipe off the glue.

“You horrible boy,” she glared at Andrew. “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” She took a brush full of glue and coated Andrew’s hand.

Jenny held her breath, wondering what Andrew would do next, but he said nothing. When they finished the lesson and it was afternoon playtime Helen went with her into the cloakroom so she could wash her hands.

“Just because he’s the vicar’s son, he thinks he can get away with everything!” Helen told her. “I wasn’t going to let him play his horrid tricks on you!”

Jenny smiled and thanked her. “I do hope Mrs Brown gets back soon so we won’t have to sit with the boys again next Wednesday!”

That night Jenny helped her father to feed the cattle. It was warm and cosy in the barn. The cows and last year’s calves lived together in a large pen all through the winter. Jenny climbed up on the hay stack and threw down an opened bale into the hay racks for them to eat.

When they were finished, Jenny walked down to the house. Half way there she looked up at the sky and saw the moon rising above the horizon. The branch of the tall fir tree seemed to touch the moon like a giant finger.

“Oh,” she sighed, “the fir tree has the moon to play with. It won’t be lonely any more.”

Jenny ran into the house looking forward to her next day at school when Helen had promised they would play together. It was good to know she had a friend.


  1. Lovely story. That image of the fir tree touching the moon is perfect. You capture so well how children just attune to nature, so simply. THank you!

  2. Thank you for your comments, Jane. I'm so glad you liked it!