Runa’s Song

Runa’s Song

Something in the air, something astir, something creaking and settling, a sadness in the house, fear buried in the walls,  ….not now, not now, but then, once it was … once long ago.

Runa felt the fear even where she was, hidden behind boards in the wall space beside the chimney. She couldn’t see them, but she heard the pounding of hooves as soldiers came thundering up the track, she heard the clatter of swords striking the walls, and stabbing the thatch, she smelled the fire as they tossed brands onto the roof. She heard her brothers cursing, dragging down the burning thatch and emptying buckets over the smoldering cottage and bothy.

“Mam, Mam,”
“You’ll stay there,” said her mam, “until they’ve gone from here, stay quiet now, not a peep, or it will be the worse for you.”

So Runa wound her shawl over her head and crouched against the chimney. The swearing and shouting went away, maybe the soldiers were only going after the cattle in the pens; last time they had only taken  cattle and left the cottages alone. Runa had peered out from the tiny attic window then, to see them; tall soldiers in their uniforms, driving the cattle ahead and ignoring the curses called down on their heads by the old women, her mam among them. But bold Mairead had ignored Mam’s orders to stay hidden and ran after them, tossing her red hair, catching the bright coins thrown down by a young officer, following the horses for more.  And then she hadn’t come back. For three days she was missing. It was Dom who found her under the bracken on the hill, caked in mud, her shawl torn and her skirts wet and bloody.  He brought her home wrapped in his plaid and they buried her that night by the stunted oak, right under the wall of the cottage.

“She’ ll know we’re here,” said Mam, “we’ll tell your da she took the grippe, you hear me now, you boys, he’d never stand the shame.”

“He’ll never come back to know it,” growled Dom, “he’s long gone out of here, probably away across to Ireland by now; it’s us has to bear the shame.” His younger brother, Finn nodded, “But they’ll be back looking for him, that’s for sure, they have him for a rebel and a leader, they won’t let us rest.”

After that Runa was hidden in the wall space all the time.  The soldiers had thundered past several times; it was said they had been chasing off families in the next valley, there were shouts and cries and the wild keening of the women and she smelled the burning; and then there was silence.

“Mam, mam!”

“Haven’t  I told you to be silent, there’s soldiers all around yet, be still now, I’ll let ye out for a wee while tonight .”

Late, late into the night Mam pulled back  the boards and Runa crept in to the room;  it had a cold desolate feel;  Mam had only a tiny fire going, the smallest pot nestled in the ashes, oatmeal simmered,  “ No noise now, I’m letting the fire go down, I’ll not light it again, if they come by they’ll think we’re gone, they look for the smoke from the chimneys Dom says.”

Runa ate her oatmeal, and took a sip of the whisky Mam produced from her pocket. She turned the little silver flask in her fingers, “That’s Da’s, where is he Mam, will he ever come for us?”

“Dom and Finn say he’s away to the coast, they’ve gone to get news of him. It’s bad all round, fields burned, crops stolen, women taken.”

“Can’t we go to after them? “

Mam was shocked. “And leave Mairead all alone here, no one to hear her, keen with her, are ye daft girl?”

Runa said no more. Very late when black clouds hid the sliver of moon she stole out to the necessary. A grey shroud hung over the valley where she had lived since she was born; the threadbare silhouettes of trees stood barely visible against the hill. A goat tied nearby bleated plaintively and an owl swept past on silent wings. An omen? She shivered superstitiously then hurried back inside. Mam packed her away in the wall space and gave her another old shawl and a napkin of bannocks.

“Stay there now, whatever you hear, not a peep out of you, be a good girl, here take the flask too, I’ll not leave it for those bastards.”

“But where will you be Mam?”

Right here in my chair where I always am, with my knitting, waiting for your da.”


A sleety cold rain set in rattling against the door, and the wind rose and whipped the burn into frenzy, she could hear the water leaping against the stones. Runa crouched in the wall space, sipping from the flask and singing with Mairead; only she and Mam could ever hear Mairead and only she ever saw Mairead.  Sometimes she was a bedraggled grey shape, and sometimes like now she was her old bright self, tossing her red hair and rushing on ahead. “Come with me, Runa.”

But Runa couldn’t leave, she was waiting for Da. When the soldiers came again with their swords and their fire she shrank down in the wall until they had gone away. Other folk too came, over time; she heard  laughter, or crying, or singing and  the clear, bright chatter of children.  And still Runa waited. Mam’s shawl unraveled, and her skirts, wet and soiled, disintegrated under her, the flask fell onto the floor boards.

When  the wall was opened they found Runa. And that night Mairead came again for her and this time Runa would to go with her. The children saw them twist away into the evening. They waved their little hands and sang the songs they had heard on the nights when Mairead came for Runa.

– The End

Give the gift of reading through Kabuki Helps and Toys for Tots

Cookie Thief and Elephant Blue among suggested books to give through Kabuki Helps and Toys for Tots

Kabuki Helps has joined with the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program to promote the gift of reading for children in need. Frances Gilbert’s books can be purchased on the Kabuki Helps website for shopping to the Toys for Tots program.  Just go to   and use code Toy$TotsB to receive a 10 percent discount on purchases.

Kabuki Helps is a community of parents and teachers committed to making learning fun, has joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots Literacy Program to help put books in the hands of children most in need.

“The gift of a book this holiday season can make a huge difference for a child’s future,” said Lisa Hayes, founder of Kabuki Helps. “Literacy opens doors and can help break the cycle of poverty.”

To encourage donations, Kabuki Helps will pay for shipping to Toys for Tots on items purchased through its website for the Literacy Program. Books on the site are appropriate for children in Grades K-5. All are educational, as well as fun, helping children develop basic skills in math and reading.  Shoppers also can support Toys for Tots when they purchase books as gifts for family and friends.  Ten percent of every purchase from Kabuki Helps goes to support a charity of the shopper’s choice.

Suggested books for the Literacy Program include:

·       Varun’s Quest, an engaging adventure for children in grades 3-4 that teaches them to think like scientists as they solve a mystery about the plants and animals.

·       The Cookie Thief, by Frances Gilbert, a clever story about honesty, geared to early readers and pre-readers

·       Elephant Blue, a book of children’s poetry that will be appreciated by children through age 10.

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Dec 14: Willington Public Library Holiday Authors Event

Frances Gilbert will appear at the Holiday Authors Event on December 14 at the Willington Public Library, from 9 am – 3 pm.  The Willington Library is conveniently located in Willington, CT on Route 74, with easy access off I-84.

Burglar Bess

Burglar Bess


She had always wanted to be a burglar, a stalwart striped jumper, salt of the earth classic burglar, bundling the silver salt cellars into his sack, like Burglar Bill in the old children’s book.   Or a sleek black clad cat burglar, impossibly shinning up the facades of luxury hotels in search of fabulous jewels.  Even a country house burglar, stealing in through the conveniently unlocked conservatory and making off with priceless paintings. She had no patience with your modern burglar; all messy break in and bust up, snatching credit cards, phones and laptops. No skills there and such soulless possessions. No, she wanted the polished undetected entry into a different world.

She would be a thorn, something pricking here and there, “Darling have you seen my pearls?”  “Wherever did that woman put the silver candlesticks, I can’t find them anywhere?”  “Why did you change these pictures?”  Oh yes, something to upset the apple cart.  Let’s see what they are really like, the colonel and his lady, sir and madam, all those sleek suits in the money world, behind the lies and the cover stories.  Was she muttering, it didn’t do to mutter, she looked around the tables, but no one was paying her any attention. Most of them were chewing their way through frightful plates of starch and fat; she nibbled modestly at her smoked salmon sandwich, and sipped her tea. She needed to make it last, this was her one free time, a weekly afternoon trip to town; a visit to the library, pick up a few groceries and tea in the supermarket coffee shop. She had left Harris with his minder, the next door neighbor who came in and watched a sports program with him. They had a beer and the neighbor, what was his name, Don, Ron whatever, would take Harrison to the loo and give him his tea.  It was worth the few pounds.

She sipped her tea, looking around, there, there was one of them, wafting down the wine aisle; Jennifer something from the house up on the lane, not far from the bus stop; one of the new money lot, all show and no substance.  Braying  away at her friend, something about going to the village concert that night, “Got to support the locals, you know. Why don’t you come along, John’s away, we can go back to the house for a glass of wine afterwards.”

The friend laughed, “We’ll need it, they’re bound to be frightful, see you there then, six, did

you say?” They moved off. She finished her tea and pocketing a few brown sugars and two or three unused napkins, she slowly gathered her things together and made her way thoughtfully to the exit.


The bus was crowded, standing room only, she was jammed between two scruffy,sweaty young men, bragging of their exploits with girls. She shuddered; no finesse, no polish.  The bus grumbled its way into the village and came to a stop by the war memorial. A handful of people struggled to the exit including the two young men. The taller red head, retrieved a long case from the luggage space and  turned to give her a helping hand down the steep step “OK, Gran?” he winked and followed his friend into the pub.  “Don’t often see that,” commented a woman behind her, Mrs. Holt from the shop, “most of the young have no manners. I wonder what they are doing here; we don’t often see that type thank goodness. I hope they won’t be at the concert and cause a ruckus. Are you coming?”

“No,” she said, “Harris you know, can’t really leave him.”

“Shame, oh well, ‘bye then.”

She walked along the road, Jennifer’s house, a modern build, all windows and gimmicks, a real fright, stood  at the top of its steep, graveled driveway set back from the row of bungalows, fronting on the lane, away from the village. She walked past and turned and came back again to her own gate, number four, where she and Harris existed. She looked back again, it would be possible to reach the back of the house on the lane by going through the back gardens of the bungalows. She felt a shiver of excitement, people would be at the concert, John was away, the couple had no dogs, serve them right if someone, her, was to slip across the gardens and into the house by the laundry room door, which she knew didn’t lock because Ron, Don who ever, had said he was going to fix it for Jennifer tomorrow.


Ron, Don who ever, opened the front door as she came up the path, “There you are, did you have a good shop then? We’ve been fine, he’s had his tea and we watched the footie, he got a bit excited so I gave him his pill, a bit early I know, but he’s dozing now so he’ll be all right for you this evening.”

He was a good soul, Ron, Don, “Thanks so much, it is such a help, my escape afternoon.”

“You could escape tonight, and come to the concert with Peg and me. He’ll not get restless now, if we get him into bed, he’ll be fine.”

“Oh, thank you, but I have things to do, and I really wouldn’t feel right leaving him. No, I’ll be fine.”

She watched him hop over the little brick wall between the front gardens and saw Peg open the door for him.  She went into the house. Harris was slumped in the big chair, breathing noisily. She pushed a stool under his feet and covered him with a rug. He didn’t move. The evening loomed ahead, boring, deadly, drab.


She hung up her coat, slipped off her good town shoes and  went into the bedroom, might as well get comfortable; she pulled on her old sweat pants, only used for gardening, and its companion sweater.

Sitting up on the bed she helped herself to a generous sherry from the bottle in the bedside cabinet and looked out across the yard to the windows of the house on the lane. The upper ones were lit, visible through the dusk, must be the bedroom and the bathroom, and the big one was the landing. She watched for a long time, a figure moved from window to window, Jennifer dolling herself up to astound the natives. A light went on in a downstairs window, the kitchen? Jennifer putting out the wine? The upstairs lights went off except for the landing, and another brighter light showed on the side of the house, an outside light, the laundry room entrance?


Harris snored on. She pushed her feet into boots and stepped past him through the French windows.  She crossed the garden and pushed through the hedges, sidling along them in the quiet and damp until she reached the fallen fences that marked the end of the big house property. She brought herself up to the laundry room and tried the door, open, she went in. The beginning sounds of the concert floated through the night air.


Some days later Jennifer and John had a huge row over the amount of whisky Jennifer had apparently consumed while John was away, “Three bottles Jen? And why is all the cash missing from my dresser, drawer? I want answers.”


She heard all about it in the supermarket café the next week.  Jennifer and her friend were reliving the row at the next table; her friend’s opinion was that Jen should leave. “Life’s too short Jen, what about that lovely violin guy you were talking to at the concert, he was giving you the eye all right.”

“That was just flirting” said Jen, “John can’t expect me to live like a nun while he goes off on these trips.”

Her friend giggled, “Not much nun like about you. Hey look isn’t that him now?”

The red headed young man from the bus was strolling up the biscuits and sweets aisle towards them. He caught her eye, “OK Gran?”

She smiled “Very OK, young man.”


Harris muttered and Ron, his name was Ron, held the whiskey glass to his lips. Harris obediently swallowed his pill with the whiskey. “Good chap,” said Ron, sipping from his own glass; Great stuff she kept, who would have known and quite a little looker too for a Gran; yes, there might be something here for him eventually.