These footraces always ended the same way.

Cedric had been training himself by running up and down the hill at home, and furthermore it seemed to him that Conrad should have been handicapped by the extra weight he carried around his middle. Nevertheless, these footraces always ended the same way.

Conrad was first onto the mill bridge, and Cedric and Olaf followed at some distance, though Cedric came in second, as he always did. They arrived in the order of their ages, which was perhaps not coincidentally the order of the lengths of their legs.

Conrad was first onto the mill bridge.

“What do I win?” Conrad panted.

“A swim in the river!” Olaf said. “Let me help you in!”

“Better not,” Cedric said. He tried to laugh, but he was anxious as always when someone proposed doing something stupid. “There’s a whirlpool under the bridge from the tailrace coming in.”

“What are you trying to do, boy?” Conrad howled at Olaf. “Get me killed?” He grabbed Olaf’s head and proceeded to polish his fist on the boy’s silver-​​blond hair.

He grabbed Olaf's head and proceeded to polish his fist on the boy's silver-blond hair.

Cedric laughed an honest laugh at this, but there was still an unspoken worry niggling away at his peace of mind.

He looked around for its source and saw the ragged man who had been standing on the bridge when they had arrived. He still stood with his back squarely to them, as if determined not to notice them or not to be noticed. However, the way his head was hunched into his shoulders seemed more than an attempt to be invisible.

Cedric was shy, but he knew of only one way to rid his mind of a worry.

“Did you drop something down there?” he asked.

'Did you drop something down there?'

“Not yet,” the man muttered.

“Better not.” Cedric tried to laugh. “Unless you’re friends with the fish.”

“What do you want, kid?” the man snapped.

“Nothing… I…”

The man turned his face away, though it was already hidden by his lank and dirty hair. “Then leave me alone.”

'Then leave me alone.'

“All right… Sorry…”

Cedric hurried on across the bridge, distracted enough by his embarrassment that he left his squabbling friends behind him.

“Oh! Wait up!” Conrad called.

Cedric walked faster. He hoped his friends had not seen.

Cedric walked faster.

“Where are you going to, boy?” Olaf shouted. “So, you think it’s your turn next?”

“I think it’s going to rain again!” Cedric called back to them.

“Are you made of salt?”

“I’ll be damned!” Conrad laughed. “If it isn’t Lot’s wife!”

Cedric stopped.

Cedric stopped. He would not look back. He would not look back.

He looked back. The man was still standing at… No – he was leaning over the edge of the bridge.

“You boys go on ahead,” he said as they caught up with him.

'You boys go on ahead.'

“What?” Olaf laughed. “Ten seconds ago you were afraid of getting wet.”

“I know, but I have to go back for something.”

“For what?”

Conrad whacked the back of Cedric’s head and walked on. “Peradventure there may yet be a righteous soul in Sodom, and Cedric means to find it.”

Olaf snorted and offered one final piece of advice as he followed Conrad on past the mill. “Better keep your back against the wall in that place!”

'Better keep your back against the wall in that place!'

Cedric tried to laugh.

As soon as they were far enough gone, he turned and ran back onto the bridge. The sluice gate was not wide open, but still he could hear an ominous gurgle beneath the arches, where the millrace fed back into the river.

“Back, are you?” the man muttered.

'Back, are you?'

Cedric’s face was red beneath his tan, but this acute embarrassment was preferable to a night of agonized worrying and wondering about the fate of the man. Perhaps he had only stopped to look at the water for a moment on his way to somewhere else, but Cedric had to know if he was to sleep tonight.

“Were you meaning to drop something down there?” Cedric asked.

“What’s it to you?” the man barked. “I’m just standing here, not bothering nobody, so I don’t see why nobody has got to bother me!”

'I don't see why nobody has got to bother me!'

“I don’t mean to bother you…”

“You are!”

Cedric took a deep breath. “So, listen,” he said hastily, “I’m not saying you were meaning to jump in there, or anything, but I wanted to tell you – ”

'I wanted to tell you--'

“Don’t?” the man sneered.


The wind was whipping Cedric’s hair into his eyes, which was not helping him maintain his composure. He took a moment to tuck it back behind his ears.

In that time the man seemed to decide Cedric had nothing interesting to say, and he snorted and turned back to the river.

“Not exactly,” Cedric said.

'Not exactly.'

“What then?” The man turned back to him and sniffed. “Jump?”

“No. I mean… this will sound a little stupid…” Cedric tried to laugh.

The man waited. He seemed at least somewhat interested in what Cedric had to say.

Cedric smiled in relief. “I was simply thinking that if one stands on the mill bridge, a lot of people must pass by, even this late on a stormy day. And if one is thinking about jumping in – I’m not saying you are…” He laughed awkwardly.

“Get on with it,” the man growled. He was losing patience.

'Get on with it.'

“Well, a lot of people must have passed you by if you’ve been standing here a while, and perhaps not one of them ever stopped to ask you whether you were in any sort of trouble, or tell you not to jump. And even if you didn’t want to jump at the start, you might be thinking nobody cares about you at all, so you might as well jump anyway. So, just in case no one else stopped to talk to you, I thought I should.”

“And tell me not to jump.”

“That’s right,” Cedric smiled.

'That's right.'

“You know what?”

“What?” Cedric asked hopefully.

“You don’t know nothing, kid.” The man laughed at his own joke and turned back to the river.

“So tell me,” Cedric said calmly.

The man whipped his head around in surprise. “You’re an annoying little thing – did you know that?

“I knew that already,” Cedric grinned.

“Who’s your father?”

“Lord Hingwar.”

“Oh my – God!” the man gasped and then laughed. “I don’t believe this!”

'I don't believe this!'

“My name is Cedric. What’s yours?”

“Why shouldn’t I jump? Tell me that, smart boy!”

“Why should you?” Cedric asked. “It seems to me that one should not jump without a reason.”

“Here’s a reason: my wife left me for another man and took my kids – because I drank too much, said she. And so I drank some more, until I couldn’t work… and then I lost my house… and then – ”

“What kind of work?” Cedric interrupted.

'What kind of work?'

“I’m a carpenter, boy. I was.

“Do you still have your tools?”

“Listen, kid – ”

“Do you?”

'Do you?'

“Aye, but no one will hire me. I beat up my last boss for the grave crime of noticing I was late.”

“What’s your name?” Cedric asked.

“You don’t know me,” the man muttered.

“Tell me and I shall.”

The man rolled his eyes and moaned. But he said, “Tidraed.”


“So, Tidraed… Were you thinking of jumping?”

“Maybe I was,” he grumbled.

“I don’t think you should. I think you should do something else.”

Tidraed laughed. “Got any ideas?”

“Well, you were about to throw your life away anyway, so it must not be worth very much to you. Why don’t you give it to someone who could use it?”

“What?” the man gasped. “We’re not talking about an old coat here, kid.”

'We're not talking about an old coat here, kid.'

“I know, but… this is going to sound a little stupid…”

“It already does!”

Cedric tried to laugh. “Well, why don’t you try to find some work you could do with your body and your mind instead.”

“I told you – no one would hire me!”

“So find someone who wouldn’t hire you. Find someone who can’t hire you. Look, with the storms we’ve had recently, there are a lot of cottages and sheds that have been damaged. Especially among the very poor.”

“I am very poor!” Tidraed groaned.

'I am very poor.'

“That’s a good reason to help others, then. You can give your life to them instead of throwing it away in the river.”

The man shook his head and sighed. “You’re a kid, kid. You think life works that way. But it don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Trust me.”

“Well, we can always try,” Cedric said. “If it doesn’t work, you can come back anytime and jump in the river. It will still be here.”

'It will still be here.'

Tidraed laughed.

“I have an idea!”

Cedric planted his hands on his hips and lifted his head grandly, as his colossal father did whenever he “had an idea”.

“I know a poor lady whose chicken coop got blown away a few days ago with all her chickens. And no coop means no chickens – and she never had much else. Why don’t you come build her a new coop, and then I can bring her a few chicks from home? Or from my mother’s if my father won’t let me.”

“Kid, no ‘poor lady’ is going to let me near her house. You don’t know the repi-​​tation I got around here. I been hurting everyone I see till I finally run out of people and had to come here to hurt myself. I been stealing, too. To eat,” he added softly.

'To eat.'

“I’ll go with you and tell her you mean to help and you won’t steal anything.”

“That simple!” Tidraed cackled. “What a baby you are!”

“We can always try, can’t we? If it doesn’t work, you can always – ”

“I know, I know,” Tidraed laughed. “I can always come back and jump in the river. Anytime!”

'I can always come back and jump in the river.  Anytime!'