Old Scratch stood at the junction on top of the hill wondering which way to go, the people in the last town he had stopped at had been only too pleased to see the back of the him.
“Well that’s the way of a travelling tinkerers life.” he said to no-one in particular while setting down the heavy pack he always carried.
From this viewpoint he could see the road to his right went down towards a small village of humble cottages, the left twisted its way to a town of grey buildings and imposingly high chimneys.
“Hullo old fellow.” said a friendly voice, it belonged to a sandy-haired man with a pretty girl on his arm wearing an old straw hat.
“Hullo yerself young fella.” replied Scratch. “And you too young lady.”
“Where are you off to tinker-man?” she replied smiling coyly.
“I haven’t made my mind up yet, where do such a nice couple as you hail from?”
“We’re from Lowerdale.” stated the man pointing to the sign. “We’re not as prosperous as them from Upperton but we’d be glad to see you there.”
“Why thank you kind sir, I’ll rest awhile before I make a decision.” he reached into one of his deep pockets and produced a handful of bright ribbons. “For you miss, to brighten up that hat.”
She took them and her swain proffered a coin. “Is a penny enough, I haven’t much to spare?”
“Oh no fine sir, they are a gift.” Scratch replied.
“No I insist, it’s a hard enough living for all of us and this is your due.” said the man.
Scratch’s sunburnt face broke into a grin. “Why sir, such fairness warm’s my heart.”
After they had bade him farewell to carry on their way the tinker sat below the sign to ponder for a while.
“I say what are you doing there?” came an angry voice.
Scratch looked too see a man in fine clothes on a chestnut mare glaring down at him.
“Just resting awhile sir and wondering on which way to take?”
“Take the way back to where you came from, tinker, your sort ain’t welcome around here!” retorted the man snootily.
“I’m just trying to make an honest living sir.” replied Scratch.
The man harrumphed and with crack of his whip rode his mount in the opposite direction to that taken by the young couple.
“Hmmm?” remarked the old leatherfaced man, again to no-one in particular.
“Want a lift to anywhere tinker?” this time the voice belonged to a rotund red-cheeked man driving a bread cart.
“I haven’t quite made my mind up which direction to take yet.” Scratch replied.
“I’m going to Lowerdale, it’ll save your legs and we’d be pleased to see you, we don’t get too many visitors.”
“No, I’ll be fine walking when I’ve made my mind to go.”
The cart driver nodded and passed a loaf to Scratch. “For you tinker-man, there’s no charge, you’ve a hard enough life on the road I’d guess.”
Scratch wiped a tear from the corner of his eye as the bread cart disappeared towards Lowerdale, a shiny black carriage went by shortly afterwards driven by a liveried coachman. The faces at its windows as hostile as the man on the horse, it of course went towards the grey smoky town.
“Well, I’ve decided who needs my attentions most.” he said aloud yet again and picking up his pack swung onto his shoulder where it thumped against his back.
Some tiny cries of protest issued from it.
“Be quiet in there!” he shouted. “And bunch up, I feel I’m going to be needing a lot more room in my soul bag.”
Then whistling aloud Old Scratch headed along the twisty road to Upperton.