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The new arrangement was working well. Will would come up every Sunday in time for prayers, stay for Monday (alternate Mondays were moving days), and head back to the stables on Tuesday morning.

Monday night was not a performance night, because the circus folk did not like to work or perform on a Sunday, and essential maintenance had to take place. Mondays would therefore be the night when folk would take it in turns to go out to whichever town they were in, leaving the kids in the communal care of the others.

Carlotta tied the soft yellow and blue dress around her middle. It was one she had salvaged from the remains of her Grandma's home; one she had had made for her when Grandma acknowledged that she didn't like frills. It fitted better back then, before she had Molly, when even the most muscular of abdomens couldn't help but change shape somewhat. She let her hair dangle loose in curls.

Tonight, she wouldn't be the ringmaster, at least for a few hours. It was like going undercover all over again. And the thing was, without the large black hat and coat, people didn't notice her, and she could walk through the town without the cheers of the children and the suspicious looks of the people who would rather travellers didn't come.

***

"You look pretty." Maggie comments, as she steps out of the caravan.

"Thanks." Carlotta smiles at her. "And thanks for looking after Molly tonight." She's taken Maggie somewhat under her wing; seeing her, barely more than a child, struggling as the sole carer of her four year old sister. Not that Greta was much trouble. But in the first week, it had been apparent that neither of them had much more than the caravan and horse, both of which had been in very rough condition. Privately, Carlotta wasn't convinced that their horse would last the season, and was planning to see if they would let Will swap him out for a younger one as soon as tactfully possible. In the meantime, she'd persuaded Maggie to borrow a couple of extra clothes, and was looking out for anything in Greta's size. Will had had a quick look over the caravan, knocked in a few extra nails when they weren't looking, and declared it wouldn't lose any wheels just yet.

They were clearly runaways. Having doubts that Maggie was actually sixteen, Carlotta had called in an ex-secret-services favour to try and get some data on them, but so far nothing had been found. Probably using false names.

"Let 'em be, lass." Fred had advised, when she had confided in him her suspicions. "Look at the left arm of that little girl, and you'll see a curious bump; looks to me like an old fracture that never got treated right. Better off with us."

***

Will is waiting with the horses, and they ride into the village. A dance is being held at the village hall, and it's likely to be a lively affair. The end of the war has made people ready to relax and enjoy themselves a little, the music reflecting this, and trade for the circus has been good.

They take to the dance floor, more focused on the music than any attempts at acrobatics. And as he spins her around and laughs, Carlotta gazes contently at her husband; the happy, laughing Will that she married, before the war hurt him so very badly.

Towards the end of the evening, he suddenly frowns, and she follows his gaze. Her heart sinks.

"What's Fern doing here?" she asks, with a sigh. "Maybe we should leave. I don't want her ruining our night."

"She's with a man." Will says, nodding towards a young, dark-haired male in a very posh suit.

Carlotta peers over to see where he's indicating, and frowns in turn.

"They look quite close... I've seen him somewhere before, too."

"Where?" Will asks, curiously. "You were at an all girls' school, so I'm surprised you know many young men."

"I think he was at one of those ghastly parties my grandma used to make me attend." Carlotta says. "...Lord Kegworth's son, I think."

Will raises an eyebrow.

"You think a son of a lord is dancing with Fern in a village hall? It must be someone who looks like him. Let's go."

They head out of the hall, when Carlotta has a sudden thought.

"Will, if Fern is here, maybe we can see Little William. She must have left him with her mother."

Will hesitates. They haven't seen Little William since they lost custody, and both of them have missed him dreadfully. But he agrees, and they ride out to the outskirts of Buxton, something of a detour, in the hope that they might be allowed entry.

Alas, the house is dark, and there's no sign of a car or anyone being home.

"She must have taken him to her mother's house." Carlotta says, with a pang of disappointment.

"Never mind." Will sighs. "She's bound to go out again if she has a male friend, we'll work something out."

They turn the horses round and ride back to the camp, where their own little person is sleeping peacefully in her cot.

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Carlotta Francis (nee Brown)

February 2014

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