Archibald was Patience’s best friend . Everybody knew that, because Patience told them. The adults didn’t seem to care, but the cows were very good listeners. When her mother wasn’t with the cows, and Archibald couldn’t come out to play, Patience went and sat on a milk stool and talked to her cow-friends. They couldn’t talk back, but Patience didn’t mind. She had Archibald for that! He always knew where to find her, but she waited for him outside his gate every afternoon anyway. He always smiled when she did that, and then Patience smiled, even if she’d spent the morning helping her mother with the manure.
That afternoon, Patience ran and ran and finally caught up with Archibald on a hillock at the edge of the pasture. She grabbed his collar and pulled him down to the ground.
“Yield, dread pirate!” She yelled triumphantly
“I yield at once!” He cried back. She released him and he sat up, pouting. She giggled and he pouted more fiercely. She reached over and mussed the mud out of his curly blonde hair. By the time she had finished, he was grinning up at her through his fringe. She flopped down next to him and stared up at the sky
“Because of his unwavering dedication to our Queen and Country,” Archibald said suddenly, “Father is being honoured with a full promotion and a new command over a posting abroad.”
Patience’s eyes widened. “What does that mean?”
Archibald frowned. “I don’t know.” He bit his lip and then brightened up again. “Mother says it all the time, so it must be true!”
Patience cocked her head to one side, trying to make sense of all fancy words. “If it is a post-ing, perhaps he has got a letter! From far away - from Timbuktu!”
Archibald grinned. “Yes! From Timbuktu! I know - it is a letter, telling him about all the foreign countries, and how to get there, and how to avoid the pirates on the way!”
“And the sorcerers!”
“And the ghosts!”
One day, Archibald didn’t come out to meet her at the gate. She stood there for an hour, and then she got tired so she sat down on the grass. She stayed there all afternoon until she heard the cow-bells ring and she had to rush back to the dairy as fast as she could. Whilst her mother milked the cows, Patience sat beside her on her own stall and replaced the buckets when they were needed.
“Archibald didn’t come and play today.”
“Not at all?”
“No. I waited and waited and he never came.”
“Well, how odd.”
“Why wouldn’t he come, Mother?”
“Perhaps he was ill.” Patience gasped, and her mother went on. “You have had him running all over the hills for weeks now! I’m sure he has never done so much in his whole life.”
Patience ran out of the dairy sobbing. Was this her fault? Had she made her best friend ill? Was he lying in the dark, moaning and unable to move? Was he dying ? She ran straight to the larder in their house, and got down all the things that Mother gave her when she was ill - strawberry jam, Sally Lunns, muffins and eggs and everything else, along with a new bottle of milk. She found a basket to put it all in and then ran panting all the way back to Archibald’s gate. It was getting dark, but no lights were on in the big house. Her heart leapt to her throat, and for the first time, she opened the gate. She wasn’t really allowed inside, but this was different. Archibald was ill. She had to help him.
The front door was very big. She set down her basket, and looked up at the brass door knocker. It gleamed and sparkled in the setting sun. Patience looked down at her hands, dirty and muddy from tripping and catching herself in her hurry to get here. She wiped them on her dress, but it only made them worse. She sobbed again. She had to do something for him. The basket - the basket would help. She left it in the middle of the step, where they would have to find it. Then she ran away before anyone knew she had been there.
Two days later, and still they had heard nothing from Archibald. In the middle of the morning, as Patience sat eating toast with her mother, there was a knock at the door. Mother got up and went to answer it, and Patience huddled behind her, hiding in her skirts. A man in a fancy red coat stood behind the door.
“Good morning, ma’am.” He said, doffing his fancy hat.
“Good morning, sir.” She bobbed down into a little curtsey and avoided looking at his face. “How can I help you?”
“I am Joseph Porter, articled clerk, ma’am. I believe you run this dairy?”
“I do, sir.”
“That is quite an accomplishment, ma’am.” Mother blushed red, and Patience decided that he was a nice man. “I have come as I must return this. I am sorry, but much of its contents must have perished.” He held out the basket that Patience had filled. Patience gasped and buried herself further behind her mother.
Her mother took the basket slowly. “My daughter made this for the little child of Major Grosvenor. Did he not want it?”
“Your daughter is very kind, but alas young master Grosvenor is not here anymore to take it.”
Patience shrieked and pushed forward past her mother. “What do you mean?”
The fancy man blinked. “Good morning, young lady. I mean to say that Major Grosvenor and his family have left the country. Master Grosvenor will now be on a boat, setting sail for the Americas.”
Patience was inconsolable. She would not move from the bed but to sit on the cliffside looking out to sea, in the hopes of seeing one particular ship. She cried and cried such as she had not cried since she was a tiny babe and her mother could not do anything about it.
“These fancy rich people are different to us, dear Patience,” she would try to say, “They never stay in one place, and they couldn’t understand us. He would have grown up and changed and treated you very differently” - at that, Patience, had stormed out of the room - “I think it was for the best!” Her mother called after her. Patience did not listen. Her mother sighed. Young children played with each other no matter their wealth or their clothes or their muddiness, but she had to be glad that her baby girl would not experience the growing scorn of a Major’s son towards a simple milkmaid. She had to remember that, but it still broke her heart to hear her daughter crying. She was suddenly incredibly grateful that Patience did not remember her father, if only that she was spared that pain. She would grow, and she would forget. She was only four years old, with her whole life ahead of her. Plenty of time to make more friends.