“Good morning Margaret, how is the family?” Betty asked.
The well-dressed matron she spoke to ran the only Bakery in town and every morning stood at the front door, watching to see what everyone else was up to.
“Why, wonderful! Yesterday I spent most of the day with my Cissie, trying on her Grandmother’s wedding dress. It fits perfectly, as she has that little frame like her Gran. Just a little nip here and a tuck there and it will be ready for the big day! I can hardly wait Betty!”
“Oh how wonderful! Yes, I’m sure you are so thrilled for Cissie. That William’s boy is so well mannered, such a lovely boy!”
As they looked across the street a young man in worn out clothes was walking along the path, with a blue back-pack on.
“Who is that?” Betty asked. “I haven’t seen him around here before. Is he one of those terrible hippies I hear so much about?”
“He may be.” Margaret replied. “I hope the local Police are keeping an eye on him.”
“Well, I had better keep moving Margaret, I have a lot of shopping to do, and I’ll pick up my bread on the way home. Remember to keep a high tin loaf for me, and some of those lovely fresh baps!”
“Of course Betty, I’ll see you later!”
As she walked, Betty watched the stranger across the street.
He stopped at the petrol station and spoke to the attendant.
“Good morning Sir, how can I help you?” Ralph asked, looking the young man up and down.
“I’m sorry to be a nuisance, but I can’t seem to find anywhere to stay? I will only be here for a couple of days, but I need to find a room for the night.”
“No trouble Sir, you see we don’t really have a Motel, as the residents don’t like strangers to be staying in town. Not for too long anyway, unless they intend to live here, and contribute something to our community.” Again he looked the stranger up and down.
“Oh I don’t intend to stay, I am just passing through and then I will be on my way to the next town.”
“All right then, if it’s only for a few days, I can tell you there is a small cottage, just out the other side of town, across the railway tracks.
The young woman has some rooms she lets out for strangers passing through. I’m sure you’ll be welcome.”
Betty, on hearing this guidance, giggled into her hand.
She knew about the woman across the tracks, and exactly why she let strangers stay. The red light at her front door told the whole story.
The stranger thanked the attendant and started to walk towards the other end of town.
Betty crossed the street and spoke to Ralph. “You naughty man Ralph! Fancy sending anyone to stay with that awful woman!” She giggled.
“Yes, well she isn’t as bad as everyone thinks Betty. She comes from a poor family, and she is a widow with three young children to look after. So she needs the money.”
“But Ralph, she is one of those night women, isn’t she?”
“I’m not sure Betty. I know she has a red light, but I’ve never heard any stories about anyone visiting her, other than to stay in her spare rooms for the night!”
“Well we just don’t know what goes on in there of a night-time, do we? A strange man staying in her house , anything could be going on!”
With that Betty continued on her way. She had to get to all her friends, to spread the rumour about the “stranger” staying the night at “that’ woman’s house!
By the next morning the whole town knew about the stranger in the house over the tracks.
Candy was sitting at the table having breakfast with her three young children. They finished their breakfast, picked up their School bags and headed out to catch the bus. “Have a lovely day kids!” She was just about to close the door when the local policeman walked up the front path.
“Sorry miss. Mind if I have a word?”
“Not at all, come in and I’ll put the kettle on.”
They walked inside and the Policeman proceeded to sit down on the sofa in the lounge.
He looked about the room. The faded red velvet wallpaper was hanging off the wall in several places, and the kids had drawn faces on bits on the floor.
There wasn’t much furniture in the room, other than the faded green couch and a tallboy standing in the corner. And he noticed there was no television in the house, but a large shelf of books of every kind was sitting inside one of the bedrooms.
Candy bought in a small table from the kitchen. She then bought in a tray with a teapot, milk jug and cups and saucers.
“How do you like your tea Sergeant?” She asked.
“White with one, thanks miss!”
Candy handed him his cup and saucer.
“What can I do for you Sergeant?”
“I’m sorry to bother you miss, but we have had a complaint that you may have some umm-----suspicious goings on here, of a night.”
“Oh, that again. I hate to tell you Sergeant but, this is just a normal house with normal people in it, there are no suspicious goings on here, day or night!”
“Then why do you have a red light outside?” The Sergeant asked.
“I only leave it there because I love red, and also because I don’t know how to change it.” She giggled.
“I have been told you have strangers staying here overnight, is that right?”
“If you read the sign out the front Sergeant, it says this is a Guest House. I rent the spare rooms out to people passing through, as there is nowhere in town for them to stay. It is not a boarding house, or a brothel, they stay the night, or maybe two nights, in their own room, and then they leave. I supply breakfast and a cuppa, that’s all. It is the only way I can make any money Sergeant, to keep a roof over my family and keep my kids fed.”
The Sergeant sat very still, holding his cup in his hand. He slowly sat the cup and saucer down onto the tray.
“Well, thank you miss, that was a lovely cuppa. I’ll get someone up here to help you change that light, and also help you strip that wall paper.”
He got up from the raggedy couch, put his cap back on and headed for the door.
“I’ll be in touch soon miss.” “Bye Sergeant!”
A couple of moments later the stranger came out of his room.
“Sit yourself down, and I’ll get you some bacon and eggs, how do you want your coffee?”
“White with two, thanks.” The stranger looked around the kitchen. There was a small fold away table in the middle. Everything was very clean and tidy, but he could tell that most of the cupboards were falling apart and the ancient stove should have been retired a decade ago.
“How long have you been living here miss? In this town, I mean.”
“Not all that long, this was the cheapest place I could find to buy, with what my husband left me, after he died of cancer.”
“Sorry to hear that Miss. I’ll be here another day, so if there is anything you would like me to help you with, just let me know.”
“Well thank you, kind Sir! There are a few little things I can’t seem to do by myself, and would be most grateful for your help!”
The next morning the stranger was up very early. He had purchased some wood and was pulling the ancient cupboards apart and replacing the rotten wood. He was almost finished one kitchen cupboard, when the Sergeant arrived.
“Well, what have we here?” “Good morning Sergeant, seeing as I am here for another day, I thought I may as well make myself useful.”
The Sergeant eyed him up and down. “Yes, well I have bought a couple of colleagues with me, so we are going to help the young lady with a few things today.”
While one young officer was changing the front light, another was stripping the wall paper, before repainting the lounge room.
“Tell me young fella, where are you from?” The sergeant asked the stranger. “You seem to have a skill with carpentry.”
“Yes, I was a carpenter by trade. Unfortunately the man I worked for accused me of robbing him, after he lost all his money gambling. Which gave me a bad name, even though I was innocent. So I had to flee that town. I have been running ever since. Just can’t seem to find anywhere I am welcome.”
The Sergeant had heard about the case, and he also knew that the stranger was wanted for questioning, even though he thought he was innocent.
“Well, you had better finish up here today, and be on your way. I’m sorry we can’t keep you here, as we need your skills, but we also don’t want any trouble”
“Of course Sergeant, I’ll be gone by tomorrow morning.”
Candy had been listening to this conversation. She would have liked to say something in the stranger’s defence, but she too didn’t want any trouble, as she was just becoming accepted in the town.
The next morning the stranger was up early and on his way.
When Candy walked out into the kitchen she almost fainted. Not only did she have a beautiful new stove and cupboards, but a kitchen table, a cupboard full of lovely dishes and another full of new pots and pans. The pantry was filled to the brim and the fridge was packed full of food. Laying on the table was a bank book, and it held $10,000 in her name!
The Sergeant had done a lovely job on the lounge, and replaced the old couch with a bright new one. He had also set up a large television, which the kids were sitting watching.
The stranger arrived in the next small town. He stopped at the local Inn and asked if they had a room to spare for a couple of nights. The innkeeper looked him up and down. “Sorry mate, we are full up, but there is a barn at the end of the street where you can stay for a few nights. No smoking or drinking though.”
The stranger thanked him and headed for the barn.
The Innkeeper called the local Police. “There is an unruly stranger using the barn for the night, thought you may like to hassle him a bit, make sure he doesn’t want to stay for long.!”
The local policeman had been warned about this stranger, and he knew that the Mayor wanted him bought in for questioning.
When he and his men arrived at the barn, the stranger was gone.