An angel

'Well - gracious me!' said Peggy, pulling the strings of her bonnet tighter under her chin. 'Won’t ma think me a toff!'

'Get on with you girl! Or you won’t be back by nightfall!' called a harsh voice.

'Gracious me! I’m going, Mrs McCreedy!' said Peggy.

Life was hard being a servant in the big house. She had been so excited at coming to work here; delighted to leave the cramped cottage. The thought of having a bed - all to herself! And maybe sliding down those long wooden floors when no-one was looking! How wrong she had been! Her bed was a place to rest her exhausted head for a few lonely hours...and she had not realised how much polishing those shiny wooden floors would take!

But today she was walking home to visit her mother in a bonnet handed down from the parlour-maid. And she had presents for Mother’s Day an’ all - a fresh-baked cake in her basket and her wages tied up in a handkerchief.

'Little lady! Pretty lady!' came a man’s voice.

Peggy leapt around. 'Gracious me! You did’n half give me a start!' she exclaimed.

She examined the man more closely. A tinker, she decided, looking at his dusty pack, travelling from village to village selling all kinds of things. The tinker smiled. He saw a girl who could be tempted into buying something she didn’t really need. 'Pretty ladies need pretty things!' he coaxed. 'A ribbon for your new bonnet?' He opened his pack displaying a dazzling array of coloured ribbons.

Peggy caught her breath. They were so beautiful. She touched one and her fingers slid across the silky texture. She glanced down at the coins wrapped up in the handkerchief. Just then her attention was caught by a forlorn sob. Looking around she saw a woman, her face streaming with tears. Peggy laid her arm on the woman’s shoulder comfortingly.

'Oh!' the woman exclaimed, startled.

'I’m sorry!” Peggy said. “Are you hurt?'

The woman gulped and waved a piece of paper at Peggy. 'A letter from my son!' she explained. 'He went away to find work. But look – he writes: ”I wish I were home! I had to walk for weeks to find work. Now my boots have dropped to pieces. I go barefoot until I have money to replace them”'. The woman’s eyes overflowed with fresh tears. 'I ‘ave no money to send him!'

The pain on the woman’s face touched Peggy’s heart. Here was she, with coins in her handkerchief, while this woman’s son walked with bleeding feet.

'Ribbons?' wheedled the tinker, pushing at her elbow. Peggy shrugged him away. 'No! Sorry.' She freed the coins from her handkerchief and thrust them into the woman’s hand. 'Hre! What do I need ribbons for? Your son needs boots much more!' The woman kissed her hand. 'God bless you! You must be an angel!' Peggy snorted! She didn’t feel much like an angel. In fact she felt humble beside a mother who loved her son so much. But - gracious me! - she thought as she walked on, what would her own mother say when she arrived home with no wages to show!

Still, she had the cake which weighed comfortingly heavy in her basket. She twitched the cover aside to smell the aroma of moist, plump fruit. Mmmmm! Just then that she noticed a small cottage. The door was wide open and at the table sat children with pinched, hollow cheeks. Behind them stood a woman, cutting a stale-looking loaf. She placed one hunk each before the children and kept a smaller piece for herself. Peggy watched the children tear at the hardened bread, hardly chewing before they swallowed it down. 'Is there more, mam?' said the boy. 'We’re still hungry!' The woman clutched silently at her thin stomach. Then she tore her own hunk of bread apart, kissing the children’s heads as she placed it in front of them.

Peggy swallowed dryly. Gracious me! With sudden decision she marched across to the cottage. 'Happy Mother’s Day!' she announced, setting down the cake in front of the open-mouthed family.

'Ooooh! Mam!' said the boy in a breathless whisper. 'Twas an angel!'

Peggy snorted! She didn’t feel much like an angel. In fact she felt humble beside a mother who would give up her last mouthful of bread to her hungry children. But - gracious me! – she thought as she walked on, what would her own mother say when she arrived home with no cake or wages to show! 'Peggy! Peggy!' cried a beloved voice - and Peggy was soon wrapped in her mother’s loving embrace. 'Peggy! How grand you look!'

'Oh Mother!' cried Peggy. 'I was bringing home a beautiful cake to you. But I gave it away to a poor starving family. And I was bringing home my wages. But I gave them away to a poor woman whose son’s boots had fallen to pieces. I wanted you to be proud of me. Whatever must you think when I come home empty-handed?' Her mother smiled and hugged her close. 'Dear Peggy!' she said softly. 'I was so afraid that being in the big house might have turned your head – that you would come back a toff - all grand and snobby!

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