The sun shone through the leaves of the oak tree, swaying in the gentle breeze. Their shadows played over Caleb as he sat with his back against the broad trunk, looking along the dusty track. From his carefully chosen vantage point across from the church he could see all the comings and goings of the village. He squinted up into the sun as a crow circled and squawked overhead.
It was so peaceful and pleasant sitting by the tree that Caleb felt himself start to drift off to sleep. No sooner had his eyelids shut than he jolted himself upright. He didn’t want to fail in his mission. It would have been easier if there was more activity to keep him occupied while he waited, but Forgandenny was a sleepy village and he could go for whole hours without seeing anyone coming along the road. The perfect place for an enemy spy to lie undetected, he thought.
At that moment Farmer Timpson appeared over the crest of the hill, leading his mare along the road. Caleb crouched down behind the tree and Farmer Timpson passed without noticing him. He was a friendly old man who would have waved a greeting if he had spotted him. Caleb smiled, reassured that his hiding place would work. As the sound of the rumbling wheels disappeared the junction again settled into stillness. At some point this afternoon Caleb was sure that the boy would pass, and he was ready to confront him.
He had no idea what the time was now, but judging from the empty feeling in his stomach, it couldn’t be far off tea time. He thought about abandoning his post and heading back to the Big House, but quickly shook those thoughts from his mind. What would his Da think of him if he did that? He was away somewhere over in France, last Caleb had heard, doing his duty bravely. The least Caleb could do was keep his own village safe. It was worth the punishment sure to be visited on him by Mrs. McPherson when he returned to the Big House late again.
The wooden stick Caleb had spent most of the afternoon hitting against the tree slipped from his hand as his eyes slowly closed and he dropped into a light dream. There was his Ma, hanging out the washing on the clothes line in the garden they shared with the others in the tenement. Wee Frankie was cutting about the street with his ball, asking Caleb to come out and play with him. The cars tearing down the road honked their horns as the boys belted after the ball. Mr. Jamieson the butcher came to his door and yelled at them after Billy almost smashed the shop window with a misguided boot of the ball. Then ‘Bang!’ A loud explosion like they saw on the newsreels. Caleb started and it took him a moment to realise that he wasn’t home at all, but in the village he’d been evacuated to. He worried about his Ma. He’d heard the Jerries had started their air raids along the Clyde again and it was all civilians that were dying and losing homes, even though they were trying to hit the dockyards. Useless bastards, he thought, then gave himself into trouble for cussing.
Then he found out about this boy Peter, who stayed at the McMillan’s Farm just down the road from the Big House. He was one of those Jerries the same as was bombing his Ma’s house and the same that had taken his Da off to France to fight. Why had no one else in the village done anything about this if they knew he was one of them? His sister tried to tell him something about this Peter being a ‘refugee’ and a ‘Kind-er-transport’, whatever that meant, and Da was over there trying to help people like Peter. Caleb didn’t believe her, she was always playing tricks on him and he was angry she would joke about something so serious.
Caleb heard shuffling footsteps approaching along the dirt road. He peered round the tree and saw Peter passing the church, crossing over the road towards him. He grasped the stick in his hand and prepared to jump out and confront him. He counted down the steps. Three, two, one. Now.
Caleb didn’t move. He remained crouched behind the oak tree and watched the boy walk past him. He was the same height as Caleb, but scrawny and slight. He wasn’t an enemy spy, just a boy like Caleb. A boy away from his Ma and Da and friends and home. Peter walked on until he disappeared round the bend. Caleb would wait for him again tomorrow, he thought, as he picked up his stick and used it to walk on like he had seen the old villagers do. He would try talking to Peter because he might not be that bad after all. It would be good to have a friend in the village to play with. Caleb shook his head and began idly walking back to the Big House. This war seemed even more confusing to him than ever before, and Mrs. McPherson was sure to give him a slap when he got back so late.