Beau scrunched up his eyes in stubborn denial of the sunlight streaming in through his bedroom window. It couldn’t possibly be morning yet. He’d only come to bed a few minutes ago after an extremely undignified fight with a stubborn hen who refused to return to the barn. His eyes had been closed for five seconds, tops. He hadn’t even been out long enough to dream.
The shrill cry of a cockerel blasted through the thin walls of the country house Beau and his family had moved to last year, confirming that it was, indeed morning. The cockerel’s mischief-making mate was no doubt pea-cocking around the barn in celebration at her victory; Beau had once again had no rest and she would soon be back in the open air, harassing the horses and keeping the other birds in line.
Admitting defeat, Beau groaned and threw back his threadbare blanket. The novel he had hoped - in vain - to finish last night lay untouched on the nightstand. Beau looked at it wistfully before getting up. He splashed some cold water on his face and torso from the pitcher in the corner of his room, avoiding his no doubt exhausted reflection in the cracked mirror hung in front of it, then pulled on a clean shirt and pair of trousers and headed through to the small family kitchen.
It was neat, but compact. Hardly big enough for the seven person family who had to squeeze around its worn oak table for meals three times a day. Two baguettes remained on the counter from yesterday and Beau fired up the aga before sprinkling them with a little water and putting them on to heat. He filled the tarnished copper kettle to the brim with water and placed it on the hob, leaving it to boil while he attended to the house’s animal occupants.
The farm animals’ feed was kept in a cosy store beside the back door and Beau refilled the buckets with a yawn, making a mental note to head into town later to purchase more feed. Their supplies were dwindling yet again.
“Come on then, Hellions,” he called out cheerfully as he entered the barn. “Breakfast time!” He flung the doors wide open, allowing the animals access to the small but well maintained farmyard beside the house. As he’d predicted, the hen who had caused him so much trouble last night was the first through the door. She nipped his boot affectionately before helping herself to the feed that he had started to scatter around the yard.
“Good morning, nuisance,” he told her with a fond smile. “Who are you going to terrorise this morning?” As if in answer to his question, the hen took off across the yard, chasing down another hen who had brazenly attempted to approach the cockerel. The morning was fresh, but dry; the sun that had woken Beau gleamed down on the yard, illuminating the dew coated spider webs.
Once the animals were fed and watered, Beau returned to the kitchen where the kettle was whistling merrily. He took it off the hob and started making tea. Once he was done, he took the bread from the aga and put it in the centre of the table with a small slab of butter, an almost empty pot of homemade jam and seven plates. It was a meagre breakfast, but there was nothing that could be done about that. Milk, at least, was plentiful, having been provided by the family’s cow yesterday. Milking her would be his next job for the morning, once he’d had something to eat.
Beau rang the brass bell by the door before taking his place at the table, tearing off a chunk of the warm bread and biting into it. He left the butter and the jam untouched.
He was halfway through his breakfast when the rest of his family appeared. His father looked grateful as always. He was moving stiffly today; the injured leg that prevented him from helping Beau to run the farm must have been causing him more trouble due to the growing coldness of the weather. Beau made a mental note to put a hot water pan in his bed tonight. His three younger sisters - Rose, Clara and Estelle - took their seats with fond smiles in his direction, although tiny Rose struggled to hide her dismay at how little food was on offer. Her tiny bottom lip quivered as their eldest brother, Louis, seized the last of the jam, slathering it over his own disproportionately large chunk of bread without a thought for the others. Gabriel took an equally uneven portion, throwing Beau a look of disgust as he spread crumbs all over the table.
“Is this all there is?” He complained loudly.
“I’m not a magician, Gabe,” Beau replied, tearing off some of his remaining bread and handing it to Rose, who had already finished her own portion and was looking around hungrily. “I can’t fashion breakfast from thin air.”
“What about the eggs you collected yesterday?” Louis grunted, pouring himself another cup of tea.
“I’m taking them into town to sell so that I can put breakfast on the table tomorrow morning.” Beau struggled to keep his tone even as he spoke to his brothers.
“Get some croissants,” Gabe demanded. Rose and Clara’s eyes lit up, but Beau shook his head.
“Do you have any idea how much they cost? It’s croissants for three of us, or bread for all.”
Louis laughed, tipping his head back so that his brown curls fell away from his eyes. “So long as I get to eat, I don’t care.”
Gabe, meanwhile, was glaring at their father, his green eyes glowing. “I miss the town. We were never hungry once we finished breakfast there.”
Louis laughed once more. “Only hungry for another eyeful of that maid. What was her name again? The one that always bought you extra pastries?”
Gabe shrugged, grinning. “As if I bothered to learn her name. I was too busy staring at her-”
“Gabe!” Beau admonished, cutting across him with a pointed glance towards the younger girls.
Gabe shrugged him off, getting to his feet. At six foot, he barely fit under the kitchen ceiling. “If there’s nothing else to eat, I’m going back to bed.” Louis sloshed down his cup of tea, letting the cup crash back to the table with a loud belch before following his brother out of the room.
“Do you need any help this morning, Beau?” Grey-eyed Estelle, the eldest of his sisters, though still Beau’s junior by four years, asked once their elder brothers had left.
Beau hated delegating jobs to his sisters, who should have been playing with dolls and teddy bears instead of working on a farm. He shook his head, ruffling Rose’s strawberry blonde hair fondly.
“I’ve got it, thanks. You three should go outside and play. There’s not much nice weather left this year; make the most of it.”
“You’re sure?” Estelle checked, although her eyes glanced hopefully towards the door.
With identical grins, the three girls rose and headed outside, where their excited cries and chatter soon filled the air.
Beau’s father looked at him and sighed. “I’m sorry-“ he began, but Beau cut across him.
“Ignore them. They’re brutes. It’s not your fault that storm destroyed all of your ships. And I think we’re doing French society a favour by keeping Gabriel and Louis tucked away here where they can’t do as much damage. You don’t need to apologise to me for anything.”
“Except the loss of your happiness,” his father gazed towards the door as he spoke, where the girls could still be heard playing joyfully.
Beau shrugged. “I wasn’t really any happier in town.”
“Too busy dreaming of adventure?” His father asked, smiling.
Beau sighed. “I just want something… more than this. Not that I even know what it is I’m looking for.”
“If anyone deserves to live out their dreams, Beau, it’s you. I only hope I can somehow give you the opportunity to escape this place.”
Beau smiled sadly at his father before getting to his feet to clear the breakfast things away. Adventure. Escape. Those were dreams for someone without six other hungry mouths to provide for. Beau knew that he would be stuck on this farm for the rest of his life, his books the closest to adventure he was ever going to get.
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