Posted on: 2011-06-05
The wedding of Cousin Prudence having been attended and enjoyed, Emma and George returned to the quiet life of Highbury at Hartfield. Emma could now readily feel the movements of the new life within her and was getting excited and a little nervous in equal measure. The daily routine was both comforting; and yet seemed a little flat after the excitement of the run up to the wedding which had taken place in what Mrs Elton had been heard to murmur seemed to be indecent haste, and which meant that Gervase and Prudence might have a longer time to tend to the need to prepare for a potentially harsh winter following the terrible summer, that people were already referring to as the Summer that never was.
"Oh Emma" said George "At such a time I hardly like to suggest that I should be away from you; but I have a great desire to improve our stock by introducing more sheep into the flock; especially if we are to have more harsh conditions where sheep might at least prove of some profit for my dependants."
"Where were you considering going, George?" asked Emma.
"To the annual sheep fair at Nepcutt Green near Findon" said George "It is on the road to Worthing; the road goes directly there. It is not above twenty three or four miles; I could travel there in around three hours and stay overnight and then return the evening of the day of the fair having concluded my business."
"When is it?" asked Emma.
"It is always held on the fourteenth of September" said George "That is a Saturday this year; I have consulted an almanac."
"Oh GEORGE!" cried Emma "That would mean travelling on Friday the thirteenth; and whilst I am not in general in any wise superstitious, I fear that such a thought fills me with dread; for have they not but lately caught a highwayman on that road?"
"Yes; but if he is caught, then he is not about to be plying his trade" said George practically. "I could go on the Thursday I suppose but it would mean being absent from you for another day."
"Not if I came with you" said Emma "We might travel on the Thursday and be more likely to find accommodation; and then stay over to the Monday so I do not get tired and we do not travel on the Sabbath."
"Emma, you will be quite six months into your pregnancy then" said George, a little scandalised.
"Women travel of necessity when they are further gone; the women who were refugees before Napoleon's troops had little choice" argued Emma "And they had not the comfort of their own chaise with the most up to date springs. I have discovered that I LIKE to travel to see new places – for a short while – and it will cheer me up when I am otherwise full of the crotchets from my condition. Now I have stopped being sick in the mornings I feel a new woman!"
George considered. Emma was indeed blooming; and he hated to be parted from her.
"Your father will worry" he said.
"We shall not tell him how far we go; only that it is to a sheep fair, where we will spend a long time in order to rest me well" said Emma, who knew very well how to handle Henry Woodhouse. "What is it that you look for?"
"Merinos" said George "Some were er, liberated from Spain and brought into the country some four years ago; and I've a mind to get more of the stock into our native sheep. It's said they carry Merino anyway but merino wool is so fine and lustrous, it is top quality. And would combine so well with the long staple of Gervase's Lincolns. As well as selling well to the shawl makers who combine it with silk. It has one of the finest strands there is you know and the quantity of the fleece is good too. The staple is anything up to four inches long, all over two and a half inches, so not as short as some. I should like too to see what sort of sheep may come of crossing a Lincoln with a Merino."
"It is quite fascinating" said Emma "I had never reflected, until we knew Prudence, just how much goes into the making of cloth. And we indeed are the starting point. I will not, Mr Knightley, share the chaise home with a sheep."
"I am not asking you to, Mrs Knightley" he said. "Sheep are not so convivial as people in close company….. I always however like to be in close company with my charming wife."
"Why Mr Knightley I thought you would never suggest it" said Emma giggling and slipping her hand into his.
Mr Woodhouse was most disturbed to hear that George and Emma were to be going away again.
"But my dear George" he said "There is no need for you to put yourself out, and certainly not poor Emma; cannot Mr Larkins go in your stead? It is only a case of buying sheep after all!"
"Why no, sir, it is not" said George "It is the case of buying the RIGHT sheep; and though I trust Mr Larkins implicitly he has not the knowledge of the sale of wool that I have gained from speaking with Uncle Ephraim. And I rely on Emma's opinion also to make good choices."
"But – but she is with child! The risks, George, the risks! You cannot do this to poor Emma!"
"But papa, I WANT to go!" said Emma "Why it may be my last chance to visit somewhere else new before I have small children to keep me at home. It will do me good!"
Mr Woodhouse shook his head sadly.
"My dear Emma, you fail to understand that travel can never do anyone any good! The rigours of travelling are too great!"
"Why sir" said Emma gaily "That may have been so in your younger days; but with the elliptical spring the carriages of today are as sweet to sit in as being in one's own parlour; or at least" she amended "Not so very much more difficult! And the pleasures of different sights are a balm to the eyes!"
"Why what is there to see that you cannot see in Highbury?" wondered Mr Woodhouse. "There is nothing that is so very interesting outside of your own home, where you may see every day the people that you know; who could want to see more?"
"Oh Papa!" said Emma "YOU may be very well contented doing the same thing day in day out and seeing only the same people; but I long to see more, even if it is only a short and paltry visit to a sheep fair close by. I know that you will worry who will take care of you when we are away, but I have conceived the happy thought of asking Mrs and Miss Bates to stay; they will be pleased to bear you company I am sure and I shall leave with Miss Bates my receipt for bread-jelly the way you like it, and too strict instructions about how you like your flummery and how you must only have water gruel for an evening meal not milk, but that she might add cream to hers and Mrs Bates's if she feels they will take no harm. We must improve the stock, papa; this terrible year with no summer has caused so much misery, and George cannot let his dependants starve; we must find ways to support them if next year is as bad."
"Dear me no!" said Mr Woodhouse, looking upset "Is it truly so bad as all that, George?"
"I'm afraid it is" said George gravely "And I would not sell Donwell for THAT does no good to those of my labourers who look to me; we have had a greater harvest of strawberries than we should have had, if Cousin Prudence had not suggested growing them in pots in the conservatory and that has helped. But the oats we have just harvested are a meagre crop; and I cannot guarantee that there will be enough for you to have gruel more than once a day, or even more than twice a week, if we do not have more income from other sources to try to buy in more oats. With the promise of good fleeces if need be I might raise a loan; but I do not want to borrow against Donwell Abbey as security."
"No indeed! That would be terrible!" cried Mr Woodhouse, in lively horror more at deprivation of his gruel perhaps than at the idea of Mr Knightley losing his family home. "Not enough oats! Dear me! But must poor Emma really go?"
"I could not countenance leaving her, dear father" said George firmly.
He was beginning to enter more into Emma's desire to travel, whatever her condition; for blooming she might be, but her pregnancy made her a little sharper than usual and the idea of leaving her to be fretted by her father for even a couple of days was one that filled George with lively horror. Dearly as he loved Mr Woodhouse, as of course did Emma, he was certainly also a very demanding old man with whom one needed to maintain a high level of patience.
"I will speak with Miss Bates first thing in the morning" said Emma "And I shall make you a bread jelly right now for your supper, papa; I have stale bread ready to boil and sieve and I shall put just a pinch of ginger in to aid your digestion, and no cinnamon as you dislike it, and I fear you must have some sugar as the bees have not been forthcoming this year in terms of honey. Unless you prefer something savoury and would like me to use the bread to make a savoury bread jelly or a panada? I will not put any cheese in as I know that affects you."
"Oh my dear, I think a panada would be very pleasant; but you are right to leave out the cheese. And only one small egg beaten into the beef stock too."
"I fear that is all we have, papa; the eggs are in short supply. I have gathered all I might to lay down in waterglass, though of course the duck eggs cannot be preserved; but we shall have some eggs for the winter. The hens are all off lay for this dreadful summer; though we have more since George had the happy idea of bringing them into the stables to keep them warm near the horses" said Emma; and hurried off to see to making her father a panada.
There were preparations to be made for the journey; and of course Augusta Elton could not resist a barbed comment, having learned but little from her false assumptions over Prudence and her betrothed save that she disliked the whole family.
"Well, Mrs Knightley" she said "I hear that Knightley is off junketing somewhere; it's said that he says he is going to look at sheep, though why he should need to look at more sheep would seem rather strange to anyone who can think, when one sheep looks much like another. I do hope he does not have some other purpose."
"Oh anyone who can think and is in any wise educated is well aware that different breeds of sheep look totally different and exhibit different characteristics, even without taking into account the many points to look for in general" said Emma "But of course, you have not the opportunity of understanding these things as someone bred to the land cannot but help doing; MR Knightley and I will be looking to improve our combined flocks. As you are surely aware, these days of threatening famine call for ways to make sure our dependants are cared for; as the wife of our pastor naturally you understand the need for good shepherding" and she nodded and passed on.
Mrs Elton always brought out the worse in Emma; and Emma prayed every Sunday in church most sincerely to WANT to be charitable towards her.
When Mrs Elton found out that Emma proposed to go with her husband she was scandalised. It was true that Emma had not, as was often the case with a first baby, displayed her fecundity very visibly, especially in the heavier garments necessary for the early wintry weather; and she might indeed not even be noticed as being with child when clad in a pelisse and shawl outside. But it was still scandalous behaviour! Mrs Elton upbraided William Larkins for permitting his master to go and take his mistress when he could readily do so instead.
William Larkins was a plain speaking man when he bothered to speak at all.
"Mr Knightley can't spare me from the running of the home farm" he said "And what's more, he and Mrs Emma knows more about a-judging them ship on their staple nor what I do, which when's all said and done they're going to be a-doing of. Woman's fingers a-feeling and judging fleece be better nor a man's; Mrs Emma's a proper landowner's wife and don't need no jumped up shop keeper's daughter a-telling her betters what to do nowise, Mrs Elton."
Mr Larkins despised Mrs Elton; not for her origins, but for the way she acted as though she were some kind of arbiter of taste and distinction in the village, and tried to find fault with Mrs Emma, who had been a flighty piece but had grown out of it; and even had she not, she was still the master's wife and the vicar's wife had no call to be criticising. Especially in the light of how flawed her own judgement had been shown to be. It had not been the Eltons helping the family with Gaol Fever.
And if Mr Larkins privately wondered if Emma was a little unwise to travel so late in her pregnancy he reflected that roving about the further fields never seemed to do the in-lamb ewes any harm.
Posted on: 2011-06-08
The turnpike road to Horsham, where George and Emma would stop to eat, was an excellent road and well maintained.
As George said, nobody could mind paying turnpike dues when the dues were obviously spent on keeping the road in such good repair. They were well on their way when the Horsham and London Star Coach went by them in the other direction; it travelled daily to London and back, in under four hours each way, which was as George said, excellent time, and permitting three and a half hours for travellers to the city to conclude any business they might have there before returning them.
"In effect then, Horsham is as far from Highbury as Highbury is from London?" asked Emma.
"Yes indeed" said George. "And in our parents' youth, travel from such a distance into London would have been impossible to accomplish if one would still return in one day; the roads were appalling. People may say what they will about the pike roads, I consider them a great boon to travel. And after all, the drovers' roads are not affected, where the speed of travel is not to be much increased by a good macadamed surface of well packed stones as it is on such a coach road as this. We shall eat a nuncheon in Horsham and be in Findon – of which Nepcutt is virtually a part – by teatime, even without taking the sort of pace a public coach must do. Are you comfortable, my dear Emma?"
"Oh yes indeed!" declared Emma "I love to look out of the window and see the countryside fairly flying past – and do not be disagreeable and point out that it is we who are flying, not the countryside – and watch how the scenery changes!"
"I should not be so disagreeable as to make such a comment! The scenery will not change greatly; the Wealden clay landscape is much the same as far as Horsham at least, though I fancy you may see more standing water on the fields than you are used to do; we have embarked on more underdraining in Highbury and its environs I fancy than has yet been engaged upon further from London" he said.
"Oh but the difference is that none of the buildings are familiar; see a windmill over there! I have never seen that mill before!" said Emma. "Oh George, you are laughing at me!"
"Only a little, my darling Emma" said George "I find it delightful that you can take as much pleasure in this journey as might any child and it lifts my own jaded spirits for I see the journey anew through your eyes."
"Let us play a game!" said Emma gaily "When I see a windmill, you must give me a kiss; and when you see a windmill, I must give you a kiss!"
"What it we both see one?" laughed George.
"Then we must take more time kissing each other" said Emma.
This agreeable game helped to while away the journey with even more pleasure than even the experiencing of new things.
"When we are eating, Emma my dear, should you hear the name Weston applied to anyone in the inn or around, do not ask if they are related to our Mr and Mrs Weston" warned George as they approached Horsham.
"Why?" asked Emma, her hazel eyes wide with questions.
"Because Mr Weston comes from these parts; the Weston family originates somewhere around Horsham" said George "And there was a family disagreement of some nature. Mr Weston did not see fit to divulge the whole to me; but I understood it to be over his marriage to Miss Churchill. I may be wrong; but in any case he does not wish any kind of reconciliation so I pray you, Emma to take that thought out of your mind and the look off your face. There are no close relations in any case, a married sister is the closest, the rest but cousins."
"I was thinking how happy we were to have discovered Cousin Prudence after that foolish family estrangement" said Emma.
"Yes; but the reconciliation came about when Mr Blenkinsop wrote to your father and made a move to reconcile for himself" said George firmly "Not with the interference of any outsider. You have managed to stay away from matchmaking; let not your mind turn instead to reconciling those who do not want reconciliation!"
"It is just that we are so very happy I like to make others happy too" she said.
"And Mr and Mrs Weston and little Anna are very happy" said George. "Do not disturb that, Mrs Knightley!"
"Yes Mr Knightley" said Emma "Have you seen a whole clutch of windmills that you are so formal, sir?"
"No; I just want to kiss you anyway" said George and proceeded to do so.
The couple were glad to get out and stretch their legs when James drew up at the Crown Inn. It was a fine modern building standing in the central square where four roads met.
"This central area is called The Carfax" said George. "I thought we'd eat at the Crown because the Swan is a coaching inn and I feared there might be more traffic there with people travelling to the sheep fair; though there will be more tomorrow. Come my dear; we shall not, I think, want a heavy meal?"
"Oh so long as it is not gruel I shall be happy" giggled Emma. "But travelling is not conducive to a great appetite, I confess; a few slices of beef or mutton with some bread and butter, and an apple or fruit pie would suit me very well."
Mine host, a Mr Agate, was apologetic that he had nothing extensive for the wayfarers and proceeded to set a table that had Emma comment that if that was nothing extensive his board must truly groan when he was expecting to feed people.
It seemed a shame not to do justice to the viands set before them however and Emma found that Melton Mowbray pie, salad, and carrot soup removed with a cold partridge, a slice or two of beef with pickles made by Mrs Agate and a hasty fricassee of mushrooms went down very well indeed; and she professed a need to George to sit quietly by the fire in the parlour and drink a cup of tea before venturing forward.
"It has made your offspring frolicsome, Mr Knightley" she declared.
"More likely indigestion from eating rich food that you are not used to" said George prosaically. "We can wait an hour! Indeed I was planning to permit you time to rest here if you were so minded. Do you wish to sleep?"
"Why Mr Knightley! Not in the least!" said Emma "And indeed if it were not so bitterly cold I should go for a brisk walk!"
The travellers were joined by a couple of men also glad to warm themselves by the fire. They volunteered the information that they were going to Nepcutt.
"Oh so are we!" said Emma "You are going then to the sheep fair?"
"Not we" said the first, a lanky blonde young man. "My brother and I – permit me, David and William Akehurst – are going to the Cissbury Hill that is said to have treasure buried beneath it; we are desirous of searching for it!"
"Buried treasure!" breathed Emma "Who buried it?"
"Some say the Romans; some say it is older; and some say that it is a pirate hoard of last century" said William Akehurst, shorter than his brother though equally blonde. "It's probably all a hum; but we are out of Oxford for a while for the recess so we thought we'd go treasure hunting. We know all the stories from around here! Like the ones from St Leonard's forest just outside Horsham where there is reputed to be a headless squire who rides upon the crupper of lone horsemen, and too the venomous serpent or dragon in the same woods; then the drummer boy of Herstmonceux Castle; oh, and when you drive south, don't be concerned if your coach jumps as you approach Nepcutt, for it's only the unquiet highwayman."
"Don't frighten the lady Will!" admonished David.
"Oh I don't believe in ghosts; I am not in the least frightened" said Emma "What is the unquiet highwayman?"
"It's said that he swore never to remain buried" said William with all the relish of a youth not yet into his twenties "And the day after he was hanged and buried at the crossroads a cart hit a bump and it was his head sticking out."
"What, was he half-hanged and revived?" asked George.
"Oh no sir; he was dead all right" assured David, unable to stay out of the story "And he was re-buried and it kept happening until they buried him deep and macademed over him I think. Personally I should think they hadn't dug deep enough on account of the clay being heavy; and he got successively dug up by scavenging wild animals. But it's said" he dropped his voice to a ghoulish whisper "That all coaches passing over that very spot feel a ghostly bump to this day."
"Or more likely" said George "Any small irregularity anywhere in the vicinity is attributed to the same."
"Oh you are probably right sir" laughed William "But it is a good story!"
"Oh indeed it is!" said Emma "Why I declare it is as good as any gothic novel and better than many; all it wants is a virtuous young lady who secretly loved the highwayman though she spurned his advances for his way of life who married to please her family and her husband to be thrown fatally from his horse at the spot the highwayman is buried; and the young widow, unaware she is a widow is visited by a man she believes to be her husband who is in fact the ghost of her old beloved."
"Why, Ma'am, you have quite the talent for such things!" cried William "You should write novels!"
"Well I suppose it might be something to occupy me if I am not able to get out as much as usual" said Emma much struck.
George smiled lovingly.
She would doubtless start with great enthusiasm, the way she started reading; and would become bored and lose track of it when something more diverting came along. Still if the craze lasted long enough to keep her mind occupied through her confinement that would at least be something!
The Messrs Akehurst were travelling in David Akehurst's phaeton – not, he admitted mournfully, a high perch one – with a groom and a man of all work who doubled normally as Mr David's man and under-gardener who would help them dig.
These worthies, Edward the groom and Chitty the spade expert, were at this moment in the bar explaining to a less than credulous James how they were to be seeking buried treasure with the young masters who might have windmills in their brainboxes but at least were pretty behaved young gentlemen and digging for non-existent treasure was a better pastime than some young gentlemen got up to when down from Oxford.
James, naturally, heard all the stories and legends from Edward and Chitty and suggested dryly that any tales of hauntings on roads near the coast as might be frequented by smugglers needed no further explanation than that for him.
"Ar, reckon you'm right at that, Mister Tice" said Chitty "And the tale of treasure be no more, I do be sure, than a half remembered tale o' some smuggling haul. But that pleases our young gennelmen and don't do no hurt to no man."
And, thought James Tice, such tales passed the time of day until Mr and Mrs Knightley were ready to be on their way!
Posted on: 2011-06-12
"We'll see if we can't stay in the Running Horse as we're early" said George "It overlooks Nepcutt Green so we shall be close to the fair – it will be a little noisy I'm afraid, but better than The Gun in Findon."
"What's wrong with The Gun?" asked Emma, wondering whether to be contrary.
"Well my dear, apart from the traffic of being the Receiving House for the mail, and a coaching inn, near the Pike road and indeed near the tollgate itself, so shouts of 'GATE' would be going on day and night, the balls that are held there for the villagers, there is also a cockpit at the back of the inn on the glebeland, which I fancy might cause you some distress" said George mildly. "The noise too of Findon's villagers drawing water from the parish well behind The Gun might also be a trifle disturbing. I've stayed there before; didn't sleep a wink. Not to mention the young couple engaged in something more than kissing having stolen away from the ball and the male of the pair being graphic in his descriptions of what he was going to do next while she bleated 'Oh JAMES' at regular intervals in the sort of voice that made one wonder if she was indeed half sheep."
"George, you are BAD!" she said. "I confess it does sound a little BOISTEROUS."
"Well the Running Horse won't be quiet – there's a skittle alley there and I expect the shepherds will want to play – but at least there's no cock fighting, and the bleating of sheep in the pens is a homely sort of noise. But we may step over to the Gun if you wished to dance; though most of those there will be shopkeepers' daughters and at best stewards if you are likely to turn up your nose."
"George, I have learned that turning up my nose is a foolish thing. Doubtless I may find some of the company quite vulgar; but I think it would be an amusing experience to go to a country ball where they have the energy to dance regularly by what you suggest; or is this an occasion only for the fair?" asked Emma.
"No, as I understand it the dances are weekly" replied George.
"Dear me! Gay to dissipation whilst genteel Highbury is quite dull unless an outsider suggests a ball!" said Emma "we must certainly go; I have a mind to see how well it is run so that we might perhaps bring some life to Highbury in a similar fashion!"
George gave a mock groan, and kissed her.
"I should have kept my mouth shut!" he laughed "You have now found something else to organise!"
Emma smiled at him.
"Oh perhaps I shall permit Mrs Elton to organise it so she has all the hard work and I take the credit for the idea" she said.
"Minx" said George.
The Running Horse had accommodation for two gentryfolk; and Emma looked around the quaint taproom where all doors opened off from. It ran the depth of the house, looking out onto the Green on one side through a bow window and a bay window the other end looking onto a kitchen garden. The room was in two halves, and between them was a curious beam-trussed opening, as though a wall had been taken out and the beams inserted to hold the ceiling up; and the beam had gargoyle-like carvings of little old men, entirely naked but strategically arranged not to be too embarrassing, who seemingly bent over like Atlas to hold up the ceiling. Led into the parlour while their luggage was taken up she might too admire further gothic carving on a chimney surround that ran from floor to ceiling.
"It is a quaint place, George; I believe I rather like it" she said "I fancy it will be full of rather rough persons in the evenings however."
"Yes but not so much as you might expect" said George "It may not be worth the while of either Nepcutt nor Findon to have many inns as a matter of course but during the Sheep Fair there are a quantity of what are called 'bough houses' that open – they pay a licence of ten shillings a night to sell ales and beer and liquor and the visitors crowd to them for some comfort and heavy wets during their meal times and of an evening; some of the shepherds will sleep with their sheep you know in the hurdled pens. There's precious few other places to stay; and at least they should be warm with the animals."
"It sounds most uncomfortable" said Emma.
"I believe some of the villagers let rooms too, moving themselves to sleep all together in one room for the profit that it brings" said George "and I have seen at least one tent liberated from the army used as a bivouac by some enterprising fellow, probably a small landowner who had sold out of the military. See, they are putting up the hurdles now; I should think some of the sheep will be arriving any time."
"Where are so many hurdles kept?" wondered Emma.
"There is a place called the wattle house – they call the hurdles wattles – that was built for the purpose at least a decade ago" said George "It makes it very convenient. And when it is empty of wattles it too presents a good place to sleep for the visitors. I slept there myself one year that I came; but I prefer a good inn. Ah, mine host is ready to show us up."
Emma was delighted with their room, on a corner, with a wide bow window looking mostly over the garden.
"What is that hill in the distance? It looks almost like the motte of a castle!" she said throwing open the window and leaning out to peer about.
"That's Cissbury Ring; where our young friends from the inn at Horsham believe there to be a treasure" said George,
deciding that Emma probably was not about to fall out. Preventing her from doing so was also an excellent excuse to put an arm around her. "One may find flint tools there; it's said to be very old. There are many tales about it; and yes, I will try to find out what they are!" he added laughing. "Indeed, here come the Messrs Akehurst; they look to have decided that this is a good accommodation for them too!" he added as the young men were to be seen walking in the Inn garden, pointing and discussing Cissbury Ring with their heads together over some map.
The wattles were being made up into pens and not a moment too soon with some of the first herds arriving along the drover's pathways, winding downhill over the pass that went by Cissbury Ring.
"It almost makes sense of that line in the Song of Solomon" said Emma.
"What, does Mrs Knightley read the Song of Songs? Should I be shocked?" teased George.
"It mentions nothing that you and I have not experienced as a married couple, Mr Knightley" said Emma, demurely, but blushing furiously as she peeked out under her eyelashes at her husband.
George kissed her thoroughly before asking
"I beg your pardon George?" Emma, thoroughly distracted, had forgotten what she had been saying.
"You said that something made sense of a line from the Song of Solomon" said George.
"Oh! Yes, indeed; you know, 'her hair is like a flock of goats across the mountainside' and with the herds of sheep coming down the hillside in skeins like curls blowing in the breeze one could almost imagine them as powdered wigs of our parents' youth."
"And when you bear in mind that the goats that were in the mind of the writer, would probably have been black, like the hair of most of the women it makes yet more sense" said George, glancing out at another herd approaching on the white scar that was the chalk path. "I have however one more quote for you, Mrs Knightley; 'behold, thou art fair, my love'"
Emma surrendered to her husband's embrace and they spent some time settling into their room.
Emma was tired after the travel and was glad to sleep after she and George had settled in; and when she awoke it was quite dark. George's silhouette was at the big window that was so like the prow of a big ship – at least, so far as Emma could judge from pictures she had seen of such ships - where the last light of the sky lingered. If the moon had risen, a thin sliver as yet, it was not visible from this angle; the window looked west but one might see to the south quite readily for its great curve.
"Is the moon up yet George?" asked Emma.
"Awake, my love? I believe it may be; if it is it's still behind Cissbury Ring which we shall have a better view of tomorrow from one of the windows downstairs rather than craning out of a westward window to see to the east."
"It's such an excellent window, one may see such a way around the house" said Emma "I'm hungry."
"Then permit me to light some candles and you shall feast; I bespoke a cold collation for whenever you might be ready" said George. "There's bread, and some sliced ham and beef and pickles and a cold pheasant pie and Melton Mowbray pie, or at least a pie that is as like to it as makes no odds. The salad has a jug with its own dressing, and it smells delicious."
"Oh George, have you gone fasting to wait for me?"
"I confess I helped myself to a slice of beef and some bread; but I prefer to eat with my wife" said George. "There; now you might see what you are eating."
"Well sometimes seeing what I am eating is not necessary" giggled Emma.
"Not until I am replete in gustatory terms, woman!" said George firmly.
"Oh I am too hungry to do more than tease you" said Emma "I feel much better; might we take a turn outside after we have eaten? I think it would be pleasant in the moonlight when it is fully up."
"I believe that may be a good idea; and we shall sleep better for a little constitutional and fresh air" agreed George "And we shall not mention it to your poor father."
"POOR father" agreed Emma "He would consider the night air totally injurious to any constitution; but I must say I enjoy the quiet of the night. Though" she added "Somehow I suspect that quiet is not going to be how we might describe it with the sheep in their pens."
"There are worse noises" said George.
"Oh indeed there are" said Emma. "The shepherds for one……"
The thin moonlight was enough to see by; and already the smell of sheep was thick on the air on the green, although it wanted two days to the fair. A band of gypsies had arrived silently and were setting up camp, bending hazel staves to make tents.
"A good evening to you, good Master and Mistress" said an elderly gypsy woman "Would you like your fortune told?"
"Oh my fortune is excellent; for I have the best wife in the world" he said.
"Oh George, it would be churlish not to" said Emma "Though I fear I am not a believer in fortune telling; I am inclined to the view that your fortune is what you make of it."
"Aye, that is so, pretty lady; but there is more in heaven and earth than many know" said the gypsy "Give old Sarah you pretty palm to read."
Emma held out her hand readily.
"This is the hand of an intrepid lady" said Old Sarah "Who has known little ill fortune; and will deal bravely with such small sadness as crosses her way; I see an old one that you care for, who will live to see the child that lies in your womb crawling and laughing. You should beware that not all will tell the truth; and that curiosity can bring risk. But your fortune lies mostly in your face, pretty lady, not in its beauty but in the kindness in your eyes and your friendly manner. You will never want for love; and riches that are yours so freely and generously given too will never crumble."
She bowed a dignified thanks to George as he slid her a coin.
Emma kissed her cheek.
"You could not know of papa and his ill health" she said.
"If your family will respect the lands of Donwell and Hartfield and the people of Highbury we will be pleased for you to set up camp should you be in Surrey" said George. "We respect those who will respect others."
"Aye, and that is what makes the world go round, good master; and this I will remember should we find ourselves near your home" said Old Sarah.
George and Emma walked on.
"I am thinking" said Emma carefully "Of how frightened poor Harriet was of the gypsy woman and children who accosted her in Richmond Road; her friend actually fled."
"Yes, but I have never seen anything to suggest that Miss Bickerton's understanding – I think that was the name of the wretched female – was any deeper than that of a green goose" said George "The poor devils were begging; and Miss Smith was frightened unnecessarily I fancy. I cannot see that you would be intimidated by a woman and a pack of children and would be firm that you did not carry much money with you. Children, gypsy or otherwise, sense fear readily and will mock. Gypsies never stay long; if I give then leave to hunt and if they do tinker work they will present no problem and have no need to beg"
"You are very wise George; and a bigger person than I am" said Emma "I was willing to cross her palm with silver and was glad they were not in Highfield; and I will do as you do and welcome them should they come."
Posted on: 2011-06-16
Emma and George met up with David and William Akehurst at breakfast next morning.
"Off digging?" asked George cheerfully. The youths grinned.
"Neither tales of supernatural snakes guarding the treasure, nor any other ghosts will deter us; Towse is a gloomy devil" he nodded to the landlord "And knows a heap of stories about these parts. Mind we SHALL take seriously his warning about adders."
"Indeed" said George gravely "And you had better not take any of your arithmetic treatises onto the hill with you."
"Why's that sir?" asked William Akehurst.
"Because if they get hold of your books of tables, adders with log tables can multiply……." said George.
The young men roared with laughter.
"I wish you will explain that, Mr Knightley" said Emma.
"Well, Mrs Knightley, there are tables called logarithm or log tables that one may use with large numbers such that by converting a number to its log, and adding to another log, then converting back, means that the original numbers are multiplied" said George.
Emma considered this.
"I am glad we never studied more than basic accounting with Mrs Goddard" she said "I think this Arithmetic would make my head ache. I should rather have the headless highwayman than these log tables."
"Oh he weren't headless ma'am" interposed the landlord hastily "Just he kep' on comin' back ter life, and he ain't never goin' to lie quiet in his grave nowise!"
"Someone should pour a paregoric draught onto the grave" said Emma prosaically. "That would work better than what do you call it, a libation."
"That don't do to mock the dead" said Daniel Towse severely.
"I wasn't" said Emma "I was mocking the undead. Which I have to say I have no belief in. If you ask me the unquiet spirit of the highwayman came out of a bottle in the first place. Would you fill the teapot again please Towse? It appears to be empty."
"If you ask me" said David Akehurst in a low voice as Towse retired with the teapot "Towse knows more about illicit spirits than the spirits that are about illicitly. Nothing like a good ghost story to keep the locals in bed when there are unexplained noises!"
"Smuggling country; of course!" said George. "Well I should be careful if I were you two; if he's trying to put you off digging at Cissbury with tales of supernatural serpents likely there's some scrape or cave where treasure of a bottled kind gets hid; and probably safer to forget about any of such if you do find it."
"But George, it is stealing!" said Emma "And that means that if the government does not get its tax on brandy it will likely put up the price of bread yet more and tax that, as though the Corn Laws are not bad enough, and all those poor people in Suffolk rioting about it, and besides, the smugglers did no more nor less than consort with the enemy while we were at war, and might have in their ignorance have given away secrets!"
"And not just in ignorance" said George dryly "Secrets and letters and plans were carried as well as English gold; and perhaps the same came back with run brandy and Valenciennes lace but sailors particularly and soldiers too died because smugglers carried information for spies. Thank you Towse, that will be all" as the landlord returned with the tea "Traitors to their country, smugglers; which is worse by far than cheating the government of their duties. Though you are right my dear; for failing to gain taxes on such they would make the common folk suffer by taxing other commodities I have no doubt" he waited until Towse had withdrawn to add "No harm letting him know WHY we disapprove; but if he is a sympathiser, Mr Akehurst, I preferred him to be out of the way before saying that it is not for condoning the trade that I say to stay quiet; but for not wanting a gang of desperate ruffians of the stamp of the Hawkhurst Gang to decide to silence you and your brother. And in your shoes I would go armed to Cissbury Ring; for the sound of a shot would be enough to cause them discomfort and bring people running and that you might threaten."
"Think you it is such a risk?" asked William Akehurst, half shocked, half scornful.
"I do not know; but I do know that where people go to some lengths to make a place unattractive it may be well to take their warnings seriously – without being scared off by such tarradiddles. Let Towse know that you will take pistols to….. shoot snakes with. He'll get the message."
David Akehurst nodded.
"I think you are wise sir; Will and I will do just that. And what famous sport if we were also to catch smugglers!"
George decided not to press the point about smugglers being dangerous. The chances were, if Towse knew and passed on, that they were armed, the two young men would be left alone and any cached booty would swiftly disappear.
The bleating of sheep was fairly constant by now and Emma urged George to take her round and tell her about the different breeds they might see when the Akehursts had finished their coffee and departed to search for their probably mythical treasure.
"We'll mostly be seeing Southdown sheep" said George "Which is what our own are; you'll recognise them easily; a compact breed, not nearly as large as some you might see, with woolly faces as well as bodies. Not all sheep have wool on their faces my dear" he explained. "They're a good meat producer as well as producing fleece; the fleece however is only one and a half to two and a half inch staple, and no more than eight pounds of wool from a good mature ewe. Which was why I was looking to have a fleece producing sheep to diversify; though the fleece is very fine and does blend well. Prudence and Uncle Ephraim were impressed enough that I would not replace them. Southdowns have been bred and improved by a man called John Ellman from about thirty five years ago; my father was very interested in his work so as a child I grew up knowing about it. They're resistant to foot rot too which on our clays is always a relief."
"They are very endearing sheep" said Emma "Some of the ones we can see in the pens are large and quite aggressive looking; especially those with horns. Even our tups don't have horns, do they?"
"No" said George "They have rather appealing faces too, do they not! But I am a farmer with dependants; and I cannot keep sheep solely because they are endearing. They must pay their way, which they do, but even so we can expand and should do so to take modern conditions into account."
"Oh yes!" said Emma "Are you hoping that there might be some Merinos here?"
"Hoping my dear, yes; but more expecting to see Merino crosses, from those Sir Joseph Banks acquired for the Royal Flock, which have been sold off recently; or crosses from the French or Ramboillet merino."
"What, the sheep kept for Marie Antoinette to play shepherdess to? Will they not be dreadfully high in the instep – hoof rather – and scorn to meet any but royalty?"
"After the uncertainties of France I should think the poor things would be glad to be treated well" said George. "I thought about Romney Marsh sheep – some call them Kents – and Cotswolds too."
"Tell me about them" said Emma.
"Let me show you" said George. "Those sheep there are Cotswolds; larger than our own Southdowns but not so large as a Linconshire such as Gervase keeps. Their wool is long staple – more than six inches, longer than Merino, though not quite as fine. They're hardy enough and long lived; an ewe can still be producing twins at ten years old, so a very economical breed to keep; and I've considered that a cross with our Southdowns might produce something rather excellent. Note the heavy hair growth over the forehead and then neat black hooves."
"Their hair is dressed a la Sappho like that awful Elvira woman who would chase Gervase; only with their forward ringlets over their eyes they look really quite dissipated!"
"Oh dear!" said George "I see what you mean; Emma you bad girl, I shall never be able to look a Cotswold sheep in the face again without thinking how dissipated she looks; but at least more amiable than Lady Elvira."
"Well that's not hard" said Emma. "What about the Romney Marsh sheep?"
"Over here" said George "Here are some; again you can see they are long staple; but with open faces and a little topknot. They don't have horns at all either; and are larger than our own Southdowns."
"Their legs look very woolly with the longer staple wool" said Emma "Like the sheepskin your shepherd ties around his legs in the winter."
"I wager he shivers less than a fashionable lady in a light and well draped gown even of velvet or merino" retorted George "Even with a quilted petticoat."
"More than likely" said Emma refusing to be drawn. "What is their advantage besides long staple wool?"
"It's a demi lustre; again not as fine but very strong" said George. "They're resistant to foot rot and good at foraging. And though I hankered after merinos for the fineness of the fleece I do wonder if I might have to be practical and choose one or the other of these."
"Dear me!" said Emma "It is very difficult; we should I think see exactly who brings what. And make up our minds on the day of the fair – but quite early."
"Then we shall not dance long at the ball at the Gun Inn" said George.
"DEAR George, I fear when I am dancing with not one partner but two, or rather one and a half, I shall tire too easily TO dance long at the ball" she confessed.
Posted on: 2011-06-19
The gypsy encampment was set up properly now, and was gay with the bright clothes of the gypsies. There was an altercation between a sheepdog and one of the gypsy mongrels; and both masters were intervening, the gypsy man unwontedly apologetic and conciliatory as he rained blows on his cur.
"They can't afford to be run off a profitable meeting like this" murmured George in explanation. "And around sheep they need to be careful of their dogs' behaviour."
"George, will we need to be on our guard against pickpockets and cutpurses?" asked Emma.
"Indeed yes my love; and not just gypsy urchins. All the beggars and thieves in Worthing will have come north this short distance for what pickings they might have from wealthy – at least to them – farmers and landowners and their agents buying sheep, carrying rolls of soft that they are unaccustomed to do for the most part and unwary of the wiles and skills of pickpockets. Do you recall I asked you to sew me a pocket on the inside of my waistcoat? That was for just such an event; not only is it in an unusual place, I should have to be jostled very close and I fancy reaching inside my frieze coat and my morning coat AND my waistcoat would tax most of such a kind."
"You are very clever, George and very wise" said Emma "I shall clutch my reticule tightly; how sensible it was of you to suggest I use the knit one that I can hold more firmly than a more decorative one!"
The beggars were already in evidence; some dirty ragged objects begging who might have been able bodied enough to get work – if there was any – and some more pathetic looking for sores or injuries. George went round behind one fellow with one leg and pulled up his long and disreputable coat to reveal a perfectly good leg strapped up behind him.
"Nice try neighbour but I'm more than seven" said George.
The man spat.
Emma found the children who were begging more than she could bear; and insisted on giving them a groat each.
"You'll only have them following you and clamouring for more" he said.
"Poor little things; I could not bear to think of a child of ours, or little Henry and the others, in such straits" said Emma.
George heaved a sigh.
"And some of them are in straits; but you should look carefully. That boy there, the one who is small but by his proportions twelve or thirteen is not emaciated as some are. His dirt is carefully applied to make him look haggard. He is a professional beggar not a beggar from no other choice and he is plump enough under his rags! I wager he makes as much in a day from soft-hearted ladies like you as the shepherds here make in a week; but he's too fly to display it in his bowl! Some of these are the children of poverty stricken parents, who help feed their family – those with fathers crippled in an accident say, or returned from the wars injured, like the adult beggar there whose uniform is ragged enough for anyone to SEE that he's missing an arm and whom I have vailed. And some of the children have fled a cruel indenture to factory owners or chimney sweeps where they have been placed from parish poorhouses or foundling hospitals."
"So I cannot but do what I can, can I?" said Emma
"Your compassion does you credit; but you cannot help all and must not let your spirit be depressed thinking on it" said George.
As well as beggars there were hucksters galore, with trays filled with a whole range of goods, from pins to beauty products; and one with tiny jointed dolls no more than four or five inches tall, carved out of wood with jointed elbows and knees, white painted faces with bright eyes and demure smiles and black painted wooden hair.
Seeing Emma's interest the huckster held one up.
"All the way from Germany, mistress; they are called Grödenthals after the place they are made" he said.
"How delightful!" said Emma "George, I might dress these while I am forced to be less active, for the Christmas gifts for the poor of the parish that good Mrs Cole is organising."
"An excellent idea, my love!" said George who was of the opinion that however frustrated Emma might become her sometimes erratic attention span was more than equal to finishing one doll at a time; and her compassion would make her finish all, that dressed differently would hold her attention the better.
The poor little girls of the parish of Highbury would have pretty dolls if Emma had anything to do with it. One might only hope that their parents might let them keep them and not sell them as fashion dolls.
The whole range of hucksters and purveyors of goods were not yet set up; with the majority of visitors arriving on the morrow piemen might only do desultory trade and not all considered it worth while trading this day but would come out with wares as soon as they had made their purchases direct from bakers in Worthing at dawn the next day; hot meat sellers however had their braziers set up to sell to those who came with their sheep as well as the few early purchasers like George and Emma; among these early purchasers a stout farmer and his wife who were plainly treating this as a holiday as well as a working weekend.
Emma fell into conversation with the apple-cheeked farmer's wife, who explained that she and Fiddy – she presumably was Mrs Fiddy – had left the farm in the hands of their man and planned to make a weekend of it whilst looking for a good young tup to replace their ageing prize ram and a few sheep too to enhance their stock. Emma felt pleased that she was able to discuss George's requirements quite ably and make intelligent returns about the Fiddys' flock of Romney Marsh sheep. Their conversation was accompanied by the bleating of sheep, the shouting of men and boys, music played by the gypsies as their form of begging, the cries of the vendors and the regular bastinado of hammer beats from the cobbler who had set up to mend the shoes of anyone who suffered wear and tear on the journey and whose hammer resounded in a jolly Clink! Clink! on the shoe nails between his busy sewing of leather.
Mrs Fiddy and Emma were approached by a cadaverous looking man with burning eyes and a parcel of tracts, crying out that the Kingdom of God was Nigh and that they should consider their immortal souls; and with one of those moments of rare total accord strangers sometimes find they caught each other's eye and neatly stepped aside and around him one on each side so for a moment he did not know which to pursue with his tract; and thus lost them both. Emma was giggling when they met up again on the other side of him and Mrs Fiddy shook with silent mirth; and they were firm friends for it!
George and Mr Fiddy had found some common ground looking at the flocks under the care of two local shepherds; Ned Coppard, a lugubrious faced man with a big hairy mole on his left cheek and a way of making a dryly understated witticism that pleased George no end had a flock of Romney-Southdown crosses. As it was a cross George had considered he was interested to see how well they did.
The other flock he was looking at with interest was in the care of Aylmer Woolmer, a jolly looking shepherd who entertained his sheep with the hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and Emma earned a surreptitious rebuke to her nether region from her husband for giggling and suggesting that he might change the words of one slightly to 'Oh for a thousand tongues to bleat'. These were Romney –Lincolnshire crosses, and of even more interest to George in light of Gervase's flock of Lincolnshires.
The other two big flocks were under the care of Seth Trigwell, who had care of Southdowns; and Eliezer Flin, the youngest of the shepherds at around Emma's own age, who had Hampshires, with their rich chocolate coloured faces.
Business was not really underway so it was inevitable that the shepherds and the early comers should end up with heavy wets – Mrs Fiddy and Emma settled for lemonade – discussing the merits of various breeds. George brought up the matter of Merinos.
"Ar, well, merinos have a good wool weight" said Ned Coppard "Up to near twenty pound yearly on a mature ewe, though gen'ly nearer ten-twelve; and it's fine right enough though not so long as the Romney. But see, you 'oon't get more 'n one breeding out of a merino; no, they don't come into season again for long time after the lamb be born. Saving the presence of the ladies" he added "No indelicacy meant."
"Oh that's all right" said Emma "Personally I sympathise with the merino; surely too many lambs are a weakening influence to the sheep as too many offspring may be to a woman?"
Ned Coppard went red.
"You done get the better of me there, Missus Knightley" he said.
"I only tup the ewes once a year anywise" said George "For that reason."
"Cotswolds are good breeders" said Seth Trigwell " A high proportion of twins; they're hill sheep mind; but if you're looking to cross I'd be main interested t'see what they make with Southdowns. I'm my own man see; I can't afford to experiment too much but I like to know what happen with them as do."
"My Granda says crossing sheep be an affront to God" said Eliezer Flin then flushed at his own effrontery.
"Yes, Ell, but your Granda do be that cross grained reckon he's three parts goat and the rest bell-wether" said Ned Coppard. "Owd Flin be fond o' hell-fire, ladies and gents all; don't even like Ell here looking at a woman in case he gets hisself with child."
There was much laughter from all but the unfortunate Eliezer who blushed furiously.
Aylmer Woolmer clapped the lad on the shoulder.
"Don't take on lad; 'tis your granda that Ned be getting a dig at more nor you; account o' him sufferin' from his religion not enjoyin' it the way us Wesleyans do."
Eliezer gave him a shy and grateful grin.
"Oh there was a dreadful man selling tracts who looked more like the angel of death or a minion of Satan than any kind of holy man" shuddered Emma "I wager he suffers from his religion too!"
Aylmer scratched his head.
"Well, Missus Knightley, I can't rightly agree to WAGERING account o' how gamblin' be agin my religion like strong liquor – a heavy wet for heavy work not countin' like – but I would be surprised if you ain't met Preachin' Dan, what have some strange ideas of his own, though he call hisself a Wesleyan. None of us in Findon won't have nothin' to do with him bar what civility and Christian charity dictate. Last time he were here" his face became beatific "The gypsies flung him in the horse trough."
"That IS a sad want of Christian charity" said George gravely "It might have poisoned the horses!"
This sally was greeted with a crack of laughter.
"Well, Mr Knightley, you do have a point" said Ned "But the trough could be refilled with water quicker nor Preachin' Dan might get dry."
"Well there are certainly some colourful characters here" said George "But can you advise me as to who I should speak to about drovers to bring any beasts I purchase to my own lands?"
Ned Coppard sucked his teeth thoughtfully.
"Evrard Diplock have done broke his leg" he said "And his sons not trustworthy ef he ain't there to keep un in order; stop at every inn on the way they will. Reckon the most efficient is Jacob Hook, whatever I do think on the man; and he'll have the Towse brothers help un out."
"Oh, any relationship to Mr Towse who runs the Running Horse?" asked Emma.
"Aye, Missus Knightley; James and Michael be Dan Towse's cousins" said Ned. "Now Mr Knightley, there be some more flocks arrivin' that you'll be wishful to look over, and Mr Fiddy too…."
Emma and George exchanged a look; Ned Coppard did not want to discuss that relationship it seemed.
Posted on: 2011-06-22
Jacob Hook was a lean man with close set eyes and a suspicious cast to his features. George did not like his looks much. However the man certainly seemed to know his job, listing the places he would stop, the charges for hurdling the sheep overnight in each and suggesting a route that seemed quite direct whilst avoiding the Pike road. It would take fully three days to walk a herd of sheep to Highbury, and George assured Hook that he was more interested in their well being than balking at paying for a fourth day's travel.
"I can't as yet tell you how many I shall be asking to be transported as I have not yet decided exactly which to purchase" said George "But I am considering a reasonable number of ewes and probably a good tup too. At least a dozen beasts in any case, probably a score or more. Even a larger number if I see beasts I really like. Will that be a problem?"
"Oh no, sir, no; as many as you need to take; but the more there are, the more extra drovers I'll need to hire."
"Oh understood" said George. "It's no good skimping on the needs of the beasts. And 'tis sheep will get us through these dark days of famine."
"Government taxes" he said darkly. "Ar, they talk about a hung parliament, ef you arst me they all oughta be bloody hung!"
"Sometimes I agree there" said George "Especially over corn. I suppose they have to tax some things however and as I rarely drink it I care little for the tax on brandy that does not mean hardship to the common man. If the government would but tax luxuries higher and staple needs lower it would make more sense; but what do I know? I'm just a farmer who has to pay his debts, unlike the Government which may mismanage its affairs like any lord."
"Ar" said Hook "Higher taxes on luxuries mean better profit for them gentlemen what can acquire them ef you gets my drift."
"I do; but I can't agree it's for the common weal" said George "A few people make profit, but certainly during the war the drift of information killed too many sailors for me to be any friend of the free trade. And I'll make that clear now, for it seems that this village has a tradition of smuggling."
Hook shrugged and laughed deprecatingly.
"Oh that be the reputation of any village near the sea" he said.
George had the feeling he might know more than he said but preferred not to ask. He had sympathy for those who supplemented their small wage with the odd bit of contraband; though the gangs who organised it were said to be vicious!
"What sheep are you after, Sir?"
"Long staple" said George, glad to be on safer subjects "And I'm wishful to look over several before I settle on Cotswold, Romney or Ramboillet – even if there are any of the latter available."
Hook spat again.
"There's a feller had some o' them French ones to breed with his Cotswolds; reckon he might have crosses for sale by now. Even ef it's only tups."
"Capital" said George.
More sheep traders were arriving and it might be expected that all would arrive before the show on the morrow since no flock that had not rested overnight would show to advantage. There might be a few sheep brought from locally, first thing; still most of the locals seemed to take the view that arriving early meant the advantage of taking a more advantageous place to show off their sheep to advantage.
The Gun Inn was anticipating a roaring trade for those paying to dance as well as those just coming to drink; the inn held its balls to suit the Sheep Fair in addition to the normal weekly dances; after all the Fair was a social occasion and plenty of farmers brought their daughters along to, as Ned Coppard told George, put the prize ewe-man Hoggets on display to shift them into someone else's flock. George groaned dutifully at the pun and reflected that Ned was not so far out at that. This yearly fair was in some ways as much a marriage mart as Almack's in London for the gentry.
The dance floor would be filled with excited farmer's daughters as well as those of the local shopkeepers' daughters who were prepared to brave the bucolic embraces of shepherds and farm managers rather than forgo their weekly dance. It was going to be more boisterous than anything Emma had ever been used to; but George thought that it would be boisterous in a cheerfully vulgar way, where the fun was, on the whole, innocent enough, despite the odd overly forward courting couple; a far cry from the truly vulgar gatherings that could occur at Vauxhall where enough of the females were for hire that no decent female might feel entirely safe. Here most of the girls were chaperoned. And the farmers would certainly be keeping note to make sure no rogue tup covered their ewe-hoggets, in Ned's idiom.
Mr and Mrs Fiddy were intent upon spending some time dancing, though Mrs Fiddy laughed and said that they would enjoy watching the young folk more at their time of life but as there was some life in the old dog yet she had a mind to stand up for at least one measure with Mr Fiddy. Mr Fiddy pulled a comically resigned face and mimed limping and holding his back which earned him a gentle scolding.
Emma tucked her hand into George's arm.
"I hope we are as amiable as the Fiddys when we have been married as long" she whispered to him.
"Can you doubt it, my Emma?" asked George "We have been best friends since you were just a little girl; our love and adult feelings are just a part of that. A generous helping of preserve on the morning toast as you might say; with the good staple diet like bread that is our friendship."
"George, how can you manage to be both terribly romantic and pragmatically culinary in one sentence?" giggled Emma.
"Well, my dearest Emma, romance without pragmatism is like preserve without toast; sweet but not terribly sustaining and definitely not easy to have to live with day in day out" said George.
Emma was much struck by this thought!
It may be said that the huckster doing the most roaring trade at the fair was selling silk stockings and elbow length gloves.
Many of the local girls had silk stockings for their weekly dances, but those whose fathers had brought them to dance at the Gun before a day's trading were willing purchasers of silk stockings at only twelve shillings a pair; though a few farming fathers were quite outraged at the cost of such when their daughters had, as one said, perfectly good wool stockings that the girl's mother had knit for free from their own wool.
The poor girl was scarlet with mortification, arguing in an undertone that if he thought any young man would dance with, let alone offer for, a girl with wool stockings like a SERVANT girl he was sadly mistaken.
"Don't see why not" grumbled the stubborn man "Any man wants a woman to cook and clean and help on the farm, not show off her pins and like as not catch her death of cold in flimsy things like that!"
"Ma told me you'd be like this" said the girl "And she said to remind you it weren't for her cooking skills you stole your first kiss with her but for having seen her legs up a tree picking apples."
Her father went red in his turn.
"Oh buy a pair of the blasted things then!" he said, drawing out his pocket book "And if you tear them or get cold, don't blame me!"
The girl heaved a sigh of relief.
Emma, who was inspecting stockings herself, grinned at her.
"Mine grudged me no money but wouldn't let me wear silk stockings for ages for fear I should catch cold" she murmured. "It took the combined efforts of my married sister and my governess to persuade papa that I would take no harm; but you have a redoubtable mother by the sound of it."
"Oh yes, ma'am she do keep pa in his place" said the girl dimpling. "You hev no ma then?"
"No; she died when I was a little girl" said Emma. "I should, if I were you, add some extra stitching to the ankle gusset where the clocks are embroidered; these are cheap for being a trifle shoddily finished."
"They're cheap?" the girl stared "Well I shall tell my pa that too!"
"A decent pair made by a master hosier would be twenty shillings a pair or more" said Emma "But if you just check the stitching and strengthen it there is no reason these should not last you some years as best. Remember that a strong lye can rot silk; be gentle laundering them and if they stain soak them in warm cider vinegar."
The girl flushed.
"Oh THANK you ma'am; that be the sort of thing I need to know!" she said.
"Well, child, I hope you meet a nice young man" said Emma "Who will appreciate all your qualities."
She had decided NOT to purchase any of these cheap stockings herself but to continue to get her stockings from Hall of London Bridge who did NOT skimp on quality!
Jacob Hook was to be escorting the pretty and bouncing daughter of Daniel Towse to the ball; and Towse by way of celebrating what he slyly hinted might be a special announcement served up for dinner what he fondly declared to be Davenport Fowls served with a pea soup, eels, rabbit pie and stewed celery.
Emma cautiously tasted the forcemeat in the fowl and raised an eyebrow.
"It ain't Davenport, is it, Mrs Knightley?" said William Akehurst.
"No indeed" said Emma "If this is Davenport Fowl then the rickety side table on which Towse keeps the fruit is a Davenport!"
"Oh excellent wit, Mrs Knightley!" declared David Akehurst laughing "Though I cannot say what is wrong with it."
"No anchovies" said Emma "And short on the spices. Heart and liver we have, and whole hard boiled eggs not merely the yolk as should be used, onion fortunately in plenty to disguise some of the other deficiencies in a matrix, I fancy, of lard, not veal suet. The white mushroom sauce with it is however quite palatable."
"It goes down well enough" said George tolerantly.
The selling of hot lamb or mutton pies on the Green might not take place for the sake of tact but as the soup and Unspecified-furniture Fowl – as young William Akehurst dubbed it – was removed with an excellent saddle of mutton this was not presumably considered a tactless dish within the inn. It was served with sweetbreads, white soup, potatoes and French beans and was finally removed with mackerel toast, prawns, blancmange and open pippin and medlar tarts and whipped cream.
"We shall be too full to dance!" laughed William Akehurst.
"Have some delicacy do, Will!" admonished his older brother, flushing with embarrassment at such a comment in front of a lady like Mrs Knightley and even in front of Mrs Fiddy. Mrs Fiddy laughed indulgently.
"Oh Mr William, you are not going to tell me that a young man scarcely out of school cannot find plenty of room for his vittles!" she chaffed him.
"Well not as much as when we were at Eton where the food was dire and sparse" he said. "Towse sets a decent table I must say whatever sort of furniture his fowl might be!"
Posted on: 2011-06-25
One might not describe the ball at the Gun Inn as a glittering society affair by a long chalk; the talk was too loud, the laughter too piercing in voices never trained to be modulated; but the bucolic finery was plainly worn proudly. Emma received many covert stares of admiration from the young girls there, for her gown that was, as William Akehurst had put it before being poked hard by his brother 'bang up to the knocker'.
Emma was not planning to step more than one or two measures and had chosen to wear one of the gowns she had made to be her Cousin Prudence's chaperone, in celestial blue velvet with blonde lace at the bodice and puffed over the sleeves and in three deep flounces about the hem. The sash was chosen to match the creamy colour of the lace and in such a heavy fabric Emma's pregnancy hardly showed. The admiration and envy of the other girls was matched only by their chagrin that all the eyes of the young men also turned to Emma.
Emma asked George to hand her to a seat; sitting would reveal her gravid condition and might speakingly warn off the young men.
It also reassured the young women who however sighed that a young matron so far gone might be more dashing than they might ever hope to achieve!
Emma and George stood up together for the first dance and the eyes of the envious locals were on them again for they knew more complex steps to the measures than tended to be danced at country balls!
George himself was the object of some admiration from those young men who might hope to ape stylishness without being drawn to the excesses of dandyism of any kind; though the exemplar for that model might be found in the younger Mr Akehurst whose shirt points were highly starched and higher than George considered in any wise reasonable and whose waistcoat around a rather tightly confined waist was a cerulean blue silk damasked with coquelicot roses of startling size.
George by contrast looked every inch the gentleman without any excess to his faultless satin smallclothes, plain black and white striped stockings, and black waistcoat with a narrow brocaded stripe of white roses with grey leaves, scarcely visible as anything but a lighter line at any distance. His tail coat was form fitting; Gervase had taken him to make the acquaintance of Weston while they were in London and George admitted that going to the best of tailors was in the long term an economy. The coat was of merino, and would last, George thought, most of his life so long as he did not put on weight.
He was not to know how many maidenly sighs pursued him and regretted that he was already taken.
That he was taken by so stylish a lady was seen to be inevitable.
Most of the maidens here did not wear white muslin as de rigeur for ballgowns; the laundering of white muslin was far too time consuming and delicate a task for girls who had no laundress and must do their own washing. Harder wearing cottons were to be seen, often with delicate prints like rows of rosebuds; or plain muslins of less fine quality than Emma was used to seeing even in Highbury in pale but not fashionably pastel colours that would wash and wear well. Trim was plentiful however; indeed in some cases rather overdone where many a foolish girl evidently believed that the more lace, braid and flouncing she had on her gown the more stylish it must be. A year and a half ago, Emma would have been disgusted. Now she looked upon the gathering with tolerant amusement.
The young women of the town were vying for dances with the Akehurst boys, plainly also of the gentry despite William's excesses, and the better dressed men who were obviously stewards or yeoman farmers; including one particularly well dressed man who might be of the lesser gentry.
This man's particular attentions to the bouncing Sally Towse did not please her escort Jacob Hook.
They did however please Sally Towse who obviously preferred the air of address of the fashionable young man to that of her mean faced and generally ill-natured looking escort.
"The lady is my betrothed" said Hook to the young man.
Sally tossed her curls.
"Only in my father's imagination" she said "I don't choose to marry you, Jacob; I can choose for myself and pa will let me or lose my touch in the kitchen."
"You'll do what you're told my girl; your father and I have an arrangement" growled Hook, taking her roughly by the upper arm. Sally cried out in indignation and some pain.
"You bain't in luck with Mr Devlin here neither, Sally me gal" said Ned Coppard drifting over and turning his lugubrious sheep like face towards her "Bein's as how Mr Devlin married Jed Tiler's Polly from out Horsham way last year and her breedin' and him lookin' for a bit o' free cross and jostle work as you might say."
"I thought that was a term used in that horrid pugilism you men like" whispered Emma to George, for she was watching the scene unfold with deep sympathy for poor Sally.
"It is" said George "But inventively descriptive nonetheless."
Sally had turned an accusing look on Devlin. He shrugged.
"Well thought you might like to dance and have a bit of fun, Sal" he said.
"Don't you make free of her name you seducer you!" growled Jacob.
"What I heard" said Ned to nobody in particular "Was that it was the horizontal dancin' he done with Pol Tiler as made her da visit him with his musket."
Sally burst into tears.
"Time to go?" murmured Emma. She was starting to tire in any case.
"Oh I think so" said George and managed to make his way to the angry – or in Ned's case mildly malicious – group.
"Miss Towse, my wife is desirous of retiring now and asked if you would like our escort back to the Running Horse" he said with a bow that had all the men in the room wishing that they had his poise.
"That's right nice of her; and I will, thank you" said Sally "No, I ain't walkin' with you Jacob; so don't you go stirring your stumps. Mr and Mrs Knightley will see me back home to my father and if you was to have me bound and dragged to the altar I'd say 'no' loud enough and if you tried it on there's more I might say that I wouldn't have to if I gets let to choose fer meself" she added defiantly. "I need to get my wrap, Mr Knightley."
"And as my wife wishes to get hers perhaps you might go together" said George "Mrs Knightley will not let anyone trouble you."
Emma cut a determined figure and Sally decided that it was worth believing that. She was so obviously Quality that neither of her erstwhile swains would dare!
Towse was surprised to see his daughter back so early.
Emma smiled at him with icy hauteur.
"Towse, Sally has been upset by the nasty behaviour of that fellow Hook who appears to consider himself betrothed to the poor girl; and if you'll take my advice you won't let an ill-tempered fellow like that squire your daughter another time, even if she'd be prepared to go with him. I have my suspicions about him."
Towse looked horrified.
"Suspicions, Mrs Knightley? Why what can you mean?" he said hollowly.
"I suspect that to get that nasty he must drink something stronger than good ale or even Porter" said Emma "Why perhaps he even imbibes spirits!"
"I'll talk to him" said Towse sourly. "And to Sally – drat the girl where be she?"
"I should imagine" said Emma sweetly "She has gone to clean her tearstained face and take herself to bed before her father, who appears to have foolishly encouraged Hook, takes issue with her about what appears to be an unwilling match. Now Mr Knightley and I are wishful of early rousing, so I trust there will be no noisy quarrel to disturb our rest, hmm? Better to discuss the matter calmly in the light of a new day. You may leave out a cold collation for our breakfast under covers and we shall butter our own bread. That will be all; thank you Towse!"
Towse was not used to ladies of quality staying at his inn; and if this was a sample of managing females of rank he did not want to get used to it.
"Emma, that was masterly" said George as they repaired to their chamber.
"Why thank you Mr Knightley" said Emma demurely "What do you suppose he was wondering when I said I had suspicions about Hook? He seemed quite horrified."
"Perhaps he thought you'd tumbled to the idea that Hook is somehow connected with the Free Trade" shrugged George "As I suspect Towse to be himself; or at least a silent partner in the movement of bottles. I cannot be worrying about that however; it is a matter for the Preventatives. And I certainly do not want it to be a matter of discussion in my bedchamber with my wife who had been looking so beautiful all evening that I have only one pressing thought on my mind, Mrs Knightley!"
"Why Mr Knightley, and what thought can that be?" asked Emma, wriggling to get out of her gown.
Mr Knightley told her in some detail and proceeded to demonstrate as well.
Posted on: 2011-06-28
The last flocks were arriving as Emma and George strolled out after breaking their fast; the Akehurst brothers were just coming down as they were going out.
Towse had left an excellent meal to break their fast and Sally was up to make tea and had thanked Emma warmly for preventing her father from shouting at her.
"It be-ant my idea of a good match" the girl said "Da have his reasons for wanting to tie Jacob closer to him."
"Well he's going to be out of the way for a few days shortly, bringing my sheep north for me" said George "So you may be frank to your father without fearing that Hook will be overhearing."
"You be real gentry, right good to me" said Sally. "Them boys might be good for a squeeze and a kiss on the stairs but not for rescuing a girl from a tight place."
"Oh the Akehursts are but young yet" said George easily "And hush, for I believe I hear them coming!"
Indeed it was the Akehursts ready for a day's serious digging once fortified with food, coffee and beauty as William said enthusiastically, bussing Sally on the cheek.
"Get away with you, Mr William" she said, not displeased, even if she did doubt his ability to extricate her from trouble.
Emma and George greeted the youngsters and Mr and Mrs Fiddy who were hot on their tail, and set off outside to see what new flocks were arriving.
One of the local flocks did indeed consist of Ramboillets; and George was interested to look them over. They were bare faced sheep, and the rams sported curling horns that came forward from below. They were quite foursquare in stance a bit like their own Southdowns; but what really excited George was that the flock included a half dozen crosses with Romney Marsh sheep. The wool was not as fine as the finest that might be had from a Merino type like the Ramboillet; but it was very fine, and very long, over four inches. George took some combings and began dickering cheerfully.
They settled on a price of seven guineas a sheep; and George talked fast to take nine Ramboillet as well as the half dozen crossbreds for a round hundred guineas.
He then went to see about a fine young Romney tup to add to the flock.
The owner wanted nine guineas.
"That's daylight robbery" said Emma "Ned Coppard wanted five and a half guineas for his Southdown Romney cross tup; which is a fair price because the tup won't produce as much wool. We're crossing with our Southdowns anyway, George; why don't we buy from Mr Coppard?"
"Look, it's a bargain, but I can come down to seven guineas" said the owner of the tup.
"Six and I'll buy" said George.
"You want to beggar me" grumbled the man "All right; call it six."
George paid in gold which brightened the face of the farmer; and George had the tup taken to the pens he had hired for his own purchases.
"I didn't know that you'd spoken prices with Ned Coppard!" he said to Emma.
"I hadn't" said Emma "I made it all up; because I know you sold a tup for five guineas to Mr Weston."
"Emma, you – WELL!" said George. Emma beamed at him.
One of the people to be seen at the fair was looked at pretty askance by many of those there to have a good time; the young man in uniform was given a wide berth and was actually muttered against by some.
"What uniform is that, George?" asked Emma.
"He's a Riding Officer; a Preventative" said George, nodding civilly to the young man, who looked surprised and suspicious.
"Good day to you" said the young officer stiffly "Lieutenant Ottershaw at your service; may I help you?"
"Only if you can stop these damned idiots from running goods without an understanding of the wider issues" said George "Knightley is my name; I apologise for staring; My wife was unacquainted with the uniform. We live in Surrey; fewer smugglers there than on the coast."
"Well that's as maybe; they pass through I have no doubt though" said Ottershaw.
"More than likely; and if I knew what I was looking for I'd inform on them" said George.
"Excuse me, but your name is from Yorkshire isn't it?" asked Emma "I have a cousin who comes from Yorkshire – North Riding I think she said."
The Lieutenant gave a small smile.
"My father comes from just north of York; though I was raised in London myself" he said. "I can't say I much like these southern counties though."
"I imagine the ordinary folk that can't be brought to see any harm of smuggling are the same on any coast" said George.
"Well what little I've picked up is that run stuff likely goes through the Running Horse; probably gets hidden in caves on Cissbury Hill, leaves by the route that passed the ghostly Highwayman and is doubtless run by any amount of men named Towse and Jacob Hook."
Lieutenant Ottershaw stared.
"HOW long have you been here sir?" he asked.
"Since Thursday" said George.
"Excuse me sir, I find that extraordinary; I have been riding this coast for a couple of months now; and though those names tally with my own suspicions I can't help wondering how come you have found out in days what it has taken me months to uncover!"
"Because, lad, the locals clam up when you're near and don't have their public quarrels in front of you" said George. "I fancy too that Dan Towse at the Running Horse is more scared of Hook than in league with him as you might say, only I should be very much obliged if it's at all possible if you didn't arrest Hook for a week or so."
"Oh? And why's that?" Ottershaw pokered up.
"Because I hired the wretched man to drive sheep for me before I had any suspicion that he has another job on the side" said George. "The most reliable drover has apparently broken his leg. And sympathetic as I am to your troubles, my own dependants come first for me, and my flocks."
"Well that's spoken as fair as may be" said Ottershaw, mollified. "I can see that you'd put your own people ahead of anything else; and a good landlord to do so if I may say so."
"I do my best" said George. "I have to say I can't help feeling an academic sympathy for those who have poor yields in these dark and unpleasant days of no summer nor harvest in getting other income; but academic sympathy is one thing, agreeing with what goes on is another."
"May I ask what it is that makes you think that Cissbury Hill is a place run goods are stored?" asked Ottershaw.
"Oh there are two young lads – on holiday from Oxford – digging for treasure there and half a hope, I suspect, of discovering King Arthur and all his knights slumbering if one might but unravel the romantic notions they are too shy to voice" said George "And they've been warned about supernatural things and adders too."
"Well there are plenty of snakes in these parts" said Ottershaw grimacing.
"Not huge intelligent supernatural ones though" said George dryly.
"No; nor have I ever had any encounter with a ghost that wasn't foolish young sympathisers trying to tip me the rise" said Ottershaw.
"Well at least these young chubs won't try that on" said George. "Apart from hankering after buried treasure – as any youngster might, and don't grow out of so easily – they have their heads firmly attached."
"And WHAT fun you and Cousin Gervase had devising clues for the children to follow to find pirate treasure!" she said "More I wager than the children did!"
George cleared his throat; his colour was heightened.
"Lieutenant; a word of advice" he said.
"Sir?" the Riding Officer was wary.
"If you ever marry, just be aware that your wife WILL innocently manage to embarrass you" said George.
Ottershaw gave a reluctant laugh.
"Oh that's all right, Mr Knightley; I was thinking my sister's young 'uns might enjoy seeking out pretend smuggler treasure in a year or two and thinking what a capital way it was to entertain them" he said.
"Well, I hope they enjoy it" said George. "I fancy that you'll find but little real treasure on Cissbury Hill however until our precious treasure seekers have got bored and gone home; if I were using it to hide goods I'd want to find somewhere else in a hurry."
"And I'd be thinking with so many people departing the fair over the next few days, it's a good way to hide the movement of other things" said Ottershaw.
"A possibility" admitted George. "There are plenty of carts after all that might well have false bottoms. I am inclined however to discount the gypsies."
"On what grounds?" asked Ottershaw.
"On the grounds that they don't trust non gypsies not to cheat them" said George. "Or inform on them to save their own skins. Gypsies are generally more straightforward about their dishonesties; fowl and pigs stolen and generally from those who have driven them away at that. They pay no taxes; so they care little for those items that pay duty. "
"I take your reasoning, Mr Knightley" he said "And as there's plenty around here would like to shift my attention to the gypsies I fancy I should not permit myself to be sidetracked that way."
He shook George's hand, bowed to Emma and went on his way.
"Poor young man" said Emma "A thankless task!"
"Indeed" agreed George "And not paid even half well enough if you ask me. Still, it ISN'T our business."
Posted on: 2011-07-02
Emma was debating with herself whether it was in any wise proper to purchase obvious Valenciennes lace from the tray of a huckster, at a price so low it almost had to have been 'run', especially under the nose of poor Lieutenant Ottershaw when her decision was taken from her.
Mr William Akehurst came pelting up to her, scattering all before him and gasped out,
"Oh Mrs Knightley, I pray you help me! David has been hurt - maybe killed!"
"Where is George?" Emma turned and saw that her husband had already seen Will's approach and was coming at the run.
Will waited long enough for him to catch up an turned blindly away to lead them.
"His brother is hurt" said Emma to George "He is too upset to give details."
"Hm" said George "Were they not such transparent youths I might have wondered if it were a trap to have us taken away and beaten; for I have received some less than amiable comments for chatting to young Lt Ottershaw. And I have repeated my remarks about how many seamen have been killed because of smugglers so that our motives may be clear and the wider view of the evils of the trade be explained - if it goes in, which somehow I doubt. But I fancy if it is not a pure accident that Mr Akehurst himself has fallen foul of the so-called 'gentlemen'."
"Would they be so bold with a Riding officer here?" Emma panted as they hurried, finding her pregnancy slowed her down no end.
"I'd say" said George, putting an arm under hers to half lift her "That it is more a case of fearing that Mr Akehurst would speak of something he saw than fearing being seen hurting him. Most folk are at the fair; and looking at the sheep, the gypsy acrobats and dancers, the troupe of travelling actors who will perform this afternoon and not at Cissbury Hill. But the boy may have merely fallen into one of the numerous flint pits that there are hereabouts and my imagination too wild to be considered true. Let us save our breath; and find out what indeed is amiss when we get there."
Will Akehurst was waiting beside a partially emptied pit a short way up the hill. David lay in the hole, some six feet deep. George jumped down and squatted uncomfortably beside the unconscious youth in the cramped space, feeling for a pulse on his neck. His hat and scarf lay beside him; small chips of chalk and chalk dust covered his body.
"He lives" said George "But that's a nasty blow to the back of the head. His neck is not broken; which is good, it means we can get him out to physic him properly. Will, lad, do you lie flat; I am going to tie his wrists with my handkerchief and raise him; get his arms about your neck and then you may more easily lift while I push up from beneath and Mrs Knightley may assist with balancing him and swinging him over."
"Oh, I ought not to have asked Mrs Knightley, and in her condition!" said Will in contrition "And to see such a horrid sight…."
"Do you really think me such a missish widgeon. Mr Akehurst?" said Emma "I cannot lift for the strain it would cause but I am not an invalid you know!"
By George's plan, David Akehurst was soon brought to the surface, and Emma examined him for breaks elsewhere while George climbed out, ruefully brushing at chalk dust on his black pantaloons. He brought the hat and folded muffler with him.
"Sorry sir" said Will "We have been wearing buckskins and rough country clothing for it."
"Do such pits occur naturally?" asked George.
"There are a number on this hill and other hills nearby" said Will "It is said that if one empties the loose chalk rubble there are galleries and tunnels; and we thought by such means to more readily penetrate to the centre of the hill to seek a treasure chamber. We were emptying this one. It looked to be more loosely packed than some; and so we thought it might be easier."
"Ah" said George.
"I cannot understand how he might have come to slip and hurt his head so badly!" said Will "Where is the rock he struck his head on? It must be a flint to give him such a blow….."
Emma, probing the wound grunted.
"NOT a rock" she said. "And if you ask me - your water bottle, I pray you, Mr Akehurst to wash the blood from this wound- and what I can see of the dent in his hat of the shape, and the few strands of wool, more likely to be an iron-shod staff or even shepherd's crook."
"Do shepherds have iron shod crooks?" asked Will.
"Not generally; but drovers might" said George "To use as walking staffs…..and as extra protection against sheep rustlers and wild animals too."
"You think he was hit deliberately then Mr Knightley?" said Will.
"I do, lad" said George, grimly "And if you ask me, you can leave your brother in Emma's capable hands and go back to the fair to both report as much to the Riding Officer who is there - Ottershaw is his name - and to collect a stretcher party to bear him back to the Running Horse where one of us will be with him at all times."
"Ooer" said Will; but left, obediently.
"It's a nasty concussion but not I think life threatening" said Emma, who had finished cleaning the wound and had managed to induce the young man, now semi-conscious and groaning, to take a drink of water.
He was more or less sensible by the time Will returned with Ottershaw.
"Mrs Knightley! Mr Knightley!" the Preventative saluted. "Mr Akehurst - do you feel able to tell me what happened?"
"Yes I ruddy well do" said David Akehurst faintly, but clearly. "It's my lucky day I reckon; if I hadn't been keeping my muffler folded up under my hat - I leave my muffler lying around otherwise but it gets in the way when I'm digging - I should think that blow might have done for me judging by how tender my head is; though I can't say I actually recall being hit."
"Never mind that, lad; what can you remember?" asked George.
"We were clearing this shaft" said David "Will had gone to get the shovels, we'd forgotten them; and I said that as the youngest it was his job. I started lifting off the larger pieces at the level we'd got to and there was a chest. Well, I was that excited - you know, a chest always makes anyone think of buried treasure."
"Yes indeed" agreed George. "Did you get to look inside it?"
"No; I - I stood up" said David Akehurst "And pondered whether to open it or whether it would be fairer to wait for Will. And I heard footsteps; so I called out 'Hey Will, come and see what I've found' or something like that; and next thing I know is being bathed here by Mrs Knightley and feeling like I'd been stampeded by all the sheep in the ruddy fair."
"Apart from mud, the dint in his hat had a whisp or two of long staple wool in it" said Emma to Ottershaw "And it seems to be a square wound such as a shod stick might give. He's right; the scarf inside that disreputable hat of his would have saved his life."
"Disreputable it may be but I like it to wear digging" said David "When it's sunny - I know that's a laugh - it keeps the sun off me, when it's wet it keeps the rain off. It's identical to the one our gardener has and for the same reasons."
Will laughed in relief and retrieved the rather battered black felt flat hat with its wide brim to show Ottershaw.
The scarf that was with it was stained with blood.
Ottershaw nodded sagely.
"Seems clear enough" he said "And now the chest appears to have gone."
"I could dig a bit and check" volunteered Will.
"It has gone" said George "They won't have risked leaving it; I fancy heaving it up past his unconscious body was what showered the boy with chippings of chalk. They'd be in a hurry lest his brother returned - look, a scar on the edge of the pit where the corner went past. And on the dry September grass, it's been got down the hill the fast way - sliding. I wager it was then dragged into that bush there and a nervous few minutes while Will returned and went running for aid. While he was gone a second time they had time to get it down towards the village and another hiding place."
"Which might be almost anywhere" said Ottershaw in disgust. "And I shall get into trouble if I insist on a house by house and cart by cart search."
"Come with us back to the Running Horse and dine with us, Lieutenant" said George "We need to get poor Mr Akehurst to bed; and we shall use his room to make plans and guard him from more harm. Though I fancy if Ned and Eliezer here" - Ned Coppard and Eliezer Flin having volunteered to act as stretcher men - "Spread the word that the boy has already spoken about finding a chest but not knowing who struck him can tell nothing further then his life should be safe."
"Smuggling be a sin for it steal from all men" said Eliezer.
"Taxes do be cruel hard and most on them stupid and some on us choose not to see things" said Ned "Not on account of condoning theft but on account of not knowing enough and not wanting to bear false witness against a neighbour you understand. But when it come to a murderous blow on a lad what's done nobody any harm and is but treasure hunting like any boy might then it goes beyond what you can wink at. And I do suspect Jacob Hook of being a smuggler, aided by the Towse brothers, and Hook do have a crook what's a combined crook and thumb-stick - it be fashioned out of a piece o' wood pulled into shape while it grew - that have an iron shoe. But I have no proof, Mr Ottershaw."
"Well speaking up is excellent" said Ottershaw. "And alas! We can get no proof for I wager he'd not keep the chest in his own house."
"I suppose" said George "He'll be using my sheep to cover the hoof tracks of pack ponies. However, I have already discussed with him the route he will use; you might perhaps have men to intercept the pack ponies on the way?"
"That's an excellent thought, Mr Knightley" he said.
With David Akehurst ensconced in his bed, with a paregoric draught to help him with the pain of his aching head his brother and their friends might be much easier.
George bespoke luncheon in the Akehursts' room on grounds that someone would be with the young man at all times.
"After all this is a public place, Towse" he said "And someone has already tried viciously to kill Mr Akehurst."
"Surely you mistake, Mr Knightley!" said Towse, trembling. "He have taken a nasty tumble but…."
"The sort of tumble that leaves an unmistakable mark of an iron-shod stick in his hat" said George "A vicious attack. And after all, it is not yet common knowledge that silencing him is no good since he has already spoken of finding a treasure chest that is now gone. He is lucky to be alive; only his muffler padded the blow. A dastardly attack and one that is cowardly. I should myself hate to feel that I might know any man who would give such a blow then leave a boy - he is scarcely more - to his fate. Such a man would make an unpleasant husband too I wager."
"I don't know what you be talking about" said Towse sweating.
"Yes you do" said George "And I've been putting myself out hinting to that Preventative that you are terrorised not willingly participating so don't cut any wheedles with me. Tell me how the stuff is run inland and I'll see that you are safe from Hook."
"Well Mr Knightley, if I happened to know what you was talking about which I don't admit that I do, I couldn't do that for not knowing" said Towse. "And it's me cousins I'm afeared of too."
"Then we may hope to take the lot of them" said George "For whatever one may feel about the trade and about excessive taxes, no band that may bring terror to others is in any wise good for the community. Cheer up Towse! Ottershaw seems a good man, and not stupid either!"
"Well for you to say cheer up" he muttered; and stumped off to prepare food.
Posted on: 2011-07-05
Ottershaw had men watching Hook of course; though as George said to Emma doubtless the contraband had already been concealed and it was a case of too little too late.
Hook was doing every impression of injured innocence, making great display of discussing his routes with George.
The drover's road left the main pike road south of Washington and diverged to the left; the flock would lay up for their first night at Goose Green. The second night's stop would be at Itchingfield which made Emma giggle that she hoped all that thick wool would not contribute too much to the itching; and the last night would be spent at Ockley. Lieutenant Ottershaw planned to have men around each of those villages in the hopes of seeing pack ponies on the drover roads.
"I know Ockley" said George "And I know fine well that you'll have my sheep on the Green there; right by the Red Lion Inn. Which I trust you will not be entering for more than the most modest refreshment and vittles."
Jacob Hook's wide eyed expression of innocence and protestations to the contrary earned him a scowl from George and an admonition to be sure that he did not, indeed, over-imbibe there.
Hook tried to take his leave of the fair Sally; who promptly retired behind Emma.
"Devil take 'ee, woman, how can I have speech with 'ee to bid farewell for the next few days if you won't leave Missus Knightley be?" said he, in frustration.
"Hook; she doesn't want to talk to you" said Emma "She was too frightened by your violent temper on Friday. She doesn't like you; your suit is unwelcome. I suggest you try to live it down."
"She were amenable enough until you encouraged her otherwise" grumbled Hook.
"Not half I was!" said Sally, emboldened by support "I went with you account of da said I oughta that's all!"
"Your presumption in speaking to me so is incredible, Hook" said Emma coldly "Now get about your business; or rather my husband's business since you are - at least unless you offend too much and the contract be cancelled - our employee."
Hook hastily pulled his forelock and took himself off.
"Oooh Missus, you did that just bravely!" said Sally in admiration.
Emma had picked up enough of the local idiom to recognise that the word 'bravely' used in context meant 'excellently well' not that she had been out of ordinary courageous; though she reminded herself that if Hook were a senior member of any smuggling gang, standing up to him was not necessarily for the faint hearted!
He had his strange crook with its integral thumbstick with him; and it would be easy to imagine him crashing a blow with it onto the unsuspecting head of David Akehurst caring little if the boy lived or died and probably preferring him to die.
Emma was chary of leaving the Akehurst boys on the Monday; but a good night's sleep had chirked David up no end and he insisted that he would be fine; and indeed urged the Knightleys to attend church if they were so minded.
The square-towered church of St John the Baptist stood at the end of a leafy drive, the leaves now in the vivid colours of autumn and starting to drift down to make passage to the church a trifle unpleasantly slippery underfoot in the damp.
Emma was glad she had put on overshoes; and churches being often cold planned to keep them on for the service too. She had put on a quilted petticoat to that end as well; and was glad that she had lined her hair-brown pelisse with both merino wool, and trimmed it with sable that she had bought in London. The heavy sable muff would keep her hands warm too.
The church seemed to have sprung from Norman origins in its doorway with every style that might be imagined added as the fancy took the village to expand it. Two gables spanned nave and aisle; the tower was square with a modest spire. Inside was an ancient font and archways of a later period, not narrow enough for perpendicular, divided nave and aisle.
"Oh George, the pews look like sheep stalls" Emma giggled quietly.
"Hush" said George. "Dear me, they do rather; perhaps the carpenter got so used to building the one….. no perhaps it is well not to pursue that train of thought."
They seated themselves discreetly near the rear of the church where they might not be too much objects of curiosity to distract the minds of the villagers from the sermon of the Reverend John Hind; for Emma's stylish looks particularly attracted scrutiny wherever she went. And her new bonnet of grosgrain in dark brown trimmed with three ostrich feathers in colours from golden brown through a pale gold that matched the lining of the bonnet was enough to turn any heads, in envy on the part of the females present and admiration from the men for it framed Emma's sweet face to perfection and made her hazel eyes glow golden within it, her hair richer next to the almost creamy gold of the lining silk. And Emma, bless her, thought George, had no idea how coquettishly those feathers bobbed as she moved.
He brought himself to order and firmly removed his thoughts away from the pleasures of taking the bonnet off later the better to kiss his wife.
The church was fortunate to have a viol and a clarinet to keep them in tune with singing; and Emma joined in joyfully. It was a good service, and though it would not be Harvest Festival until the next Sunday, which was nearer to the harvest moon, the Reverend Hind gave thanks for the sheep and the wealth that they brought to the village. He also gave up prayers for the speedy recovery of a visitor to the village wounded by some poor soul whom he exhorted to repent and beg forgiveness of God and his victim both.
If that prayer was offered more in hope than expectation, George thought he deserved full marks at least for trying.
Prayers were also offered for the continued safety of Mr Haseldine Lyall, the younger brother of the village's Mr George Lyall, on the ship Good Czar, last known to have been on the way for Rio de Janeiro.
The pews were as uncomfortable as they looked and Emma was even more glad than George when the service was over; for her pregnancy was not conducive to comfort at the best of times, let alone on seats that were sheer torture to sit upon!
After the service such obvious gentry were greeted by George Lyall, a man about George's age and starting - slightly - to run to a touch of embonpoint.
"Understand you're interested in promoting the wool trade, Mr Knightley" he said.
"I am" said George "We both are" he nodded to Emma "Emma's cousin is the daughter of a mill owner in Yorkshire; and Cousin Prudence is wed to a landowner who runs Lincolnshires. I have all Southdowns at the moment and hope to do some breeding experiments."
"Capital!" boomed Mr Lyall, who had relaxed somewhat that the Knightleys had nothing against trade in admitting to a relative who was a mill owner. "I have interests in shipping and trading; and I am also interested in promoting the wool and flax trade, as it so much part of Findon in particular and England in general. We're in the East India trade largely; so I'm grounded in cloth of all kinds as you might say!"
"Indian muslins must have been in shorter demand this year though with this awful weather" said Emma "Cousin Gervase believes it is the dust in the atmosphere from a volcanic eruption that blocks the sun; but whatever causes it wool is a more practical cloth for anyone to consider if this state of affairs is likely to continue."
"And in the winter in any case" said George "England has never been noted for mild winters."
Mr Lyall laughed.
"Will you perhaps dine with me this evening?" he asked "I should like to discuss trade, if Mrs Knightley will not be too bored."
"Oh I find the whole business quite fascinating!" said Emma brightly "Though I must say the business end of the production of the fibre is more interesting; the sheep themselves."
They took their leave and George said severely,
"And may I say that part of your interest in the sheep is laughing at the Cotswolds and their fringes."
"Well they are very á la Sappho" said Emma giggling.
"And considering how good they are supposed to be at breeding, my dear Mrs Knightley, a gross calumny to hint that they be freemartins!" said George.
"Freemartins? Oh yes, Mr Larkins spoke of such; do they not refuse the advances of a tup? What has that to do with their hairstyle?"
"Because, my dear Mrs Knightley, Sappho preferred her er intimate pleasures with other women than with men" said George, flushing slightly.
"But how……" Emma was puzzled.
"Everything but" said George firmly.
"I think that it works better with an ewe and a tup" said Emma.
"It seems to work more often with an in-lamb ewe" said George.
"Were you complaining, Mr Knightley?" asked Emma.
"Not in the least" said George.
The dinner with the Lyall family was very pleasant though Emma found it a little irksome that Mr George Lyall was inclined to be a little patronising towards her. When it transpired that he was also in politics she almost forgave him, for, as she said to George later, politicians really could not help it, a bit like Wesleyan ministers being as inclined to harangue even as some dogs were bred to bark.
"And it explains too why he will address people as though they are public meetings" she said.
"Emma you have no decorum" said George.
Emma giggled at him; and once they were in the privacy of their own room in the Inn proceeded to demonstrate how very little decorum she could manage.
George did not seem to mind.
Posted on: 2011-07-09
By Monday morning, David Akehurst was feeling much more himself, and urged George and Emma to get back home.
"He's afraid of being roped in to help with an early delivery if you stay too long" laughed Will; and was cuffed by his brother for so insensitive a comment. Emma burned; then laughed.
"Oh I'd not ask a couple of callow students for help when there are perfectly good shepherds on hand who've turned more sheep than any doctor" she said.
"Emma! You are NOT having my shepherds in, whatever you may feel about Mr Perry!" said George, shocked.
"No; I shall have Miss Bates who has assisted at more births than he has for she goes to those who cannot pay" said Emma firmly. "As the previous vicar's daughter I'd say she's far more use than that pompous and self opinionated little man, even though papa has such a good opinion of him."
"Papa has a good opinion of him because Perry always agrees with him" said George dryly. "I should very much like to change the subject."
"Yes, actually so would I" said Emma "And the Messrs Akehurst agree! Tell me, Mr Akehurst, has this dulled your enthusiasm for treasure hunting?"
"Oh not at all!" said David Akehurst "I believe I am not about to be beaten by some wretched smuggler who I hope will soon be in the custody of Lieutenant Ottershaw. I never wanted to join the Army you know, but speaking with him I might just become a preventative; having a few more officers with families as old as those who condone the trade and try to pull wool over their eyes might just help…..Mr Knightley?"
George was staring.
"Pull wool over the eyes" he said "I wonder…… I do WONDER! Emma, they will have left Goose Green by now for having started yesterday, Sabbath or no; we must find Ottershaw and meet them at Itchingfield."
"Very well George, if you say so" said Emma "What are you thinking?"
"Possibly a lot of rubbish" said George. "Ottershaw should be at Itchingfield right now; he was going to stop at each way point and check his men were in place. Your servant, Mr Akehurst, Mr William; I am a man who feels that he has been made half a fool of and I'm wishful to see that Hook doesn't manage the rest of that foolery."
"All the best to you Mr Knightley; and if you get the opportunity, knock the fellow down for me" said David Akehurst, cheerfully wringing George by the hand.
The Pike Road skirted Itchingfield and there was a Tollgate there. It was barely more than a hamlet though the church was large enough, a flint building with a large porch and - unusually - a separate bell tower, a squat affair of weathered and ancient looking wood with a low pyramidal roof.
The sheep would pay the toll for passing through the village and Hook had the money from George to do so. He had made sure it had been given to him in front of witnesses like Ottershaw so that if Hook attempted to evade the toll, George would not be the one prosecuted. Sheep were charged at five pence a score pro rata; so George's sixteen sheep would cost fourpence. Hook and the Towse brothers were driving more than George's sheep, but some of them would be delivered into the hands of shepherds on the way, one reason for the choice of route as well as keeping the herds off the main road.
Drovers roads avoided a lot of toll gates but sometimes it was inevitable when the roads converged; and sometimes the pike roads were the only practical routes. George had also given James the coachman the one and six that a coach and four would cost when they passed through it themselves; four pence ha'penny per horse for a vehicle with wheels less than four and a half inches wide. Wider wheels paid a lower toll; they did not damage the road surface so much.
They drove into the Bricklayers' Arms, the sole inn, when they came to Itchingfield; there was no green as such in this haphazard looking village, the timber framed buildings a little tighter and closer round the inn but scattered haphazardly across the slight eminence that was a watershed of the two rivers of Arun and Adur, the latter having its source not far away.
The landlord was disconcerted to see two obvious gentry.
"Ah my good fellow" said George "I'd like to take a private parlour for myself and my wife and possibly too a room for the night. We might or might not stay; which will depend a great deal on my sheep."
"Er, your sheep, sir?" said the landlord.
"Yes indeed; I am meeting my drover here" said George pleasantly.
"Ar" said the landlord and leaned close. "There be a Preventative here, sir; I weren't going to put no light in the window tonight. He'll be away up to Hook Farm instead."
"Indeed? Good of you to let me know" said George advancing a vail discreetly.
"Ar, they'll see a light up at the farm and not here; it be at the highest point in the parish" said the Landlord "And not unreasonable for sheep to be taken to a farm for an arrangement neither."
"Quite so" said George. "Perhaps I had better meet my man up there. Though I don't want to drag my wife on too much of a trek."
"Ar, best to let the little women know nothin'" said the ale draper. "I'll have our Will run up and tell them to expect you; if you're wantin' vittles first? Jacob won't be up here for a good few hours yet."
"Excellent idea" said George "What can you offer me?"
"Well I can't say as how I'm prepared for gentry, only gentlemen" the man offered a feeble sally "But it'll certainly be better than I feed that damned preventative."
"Man or officer?" asked George casually.
"Officer here in the inn and a badly hidden couple of men without" growled the landlord.
"Oh set a table with a place for the officer; no harm in a bit of bonhomie" said George.
"You won't get nothin' out of him" warned the ale draper "He's as close mouthed and Friday faced as they come; as straight faced as a Wesleyan and about as jolly as a hanged man!"
"A wise man once said, keep your friends close and your enemies closer" he said. "A man called Machiavelli."
"Ar, well, these Scotsmen are supposed to be close and wary types" said the ale draper.
It took George a second or two to realise that the man had mistaken the name of the medieval Florentine statesman for Mac Iavelly.
Somehow it did not seem worth bothering to explain.
The man went on,
"I got a nice bit of trout and I can remove that and a pea soup with a saddle of mutton and some mixed game pies; coney, leveret and pigeon chiefly. And a mash of turnip in milk with nutmeg and green beans if that will suit you sir. I've precious little fancy for the lady for a second course, most people here settle for cheese, pickle and the wife's sourdough bread."
"That sounds excellent" said George. "My wife has as sweet a tooth as anyone but she's happy without sweets to end a meal. We rarely bother at home."
Largely this was because Mr Woodhouse did not like rich sweets; summer pudding was about all he could stomach save such things as flummery and bread jelly; which Emma became heartily sick of eating for herself.
It did mean however that they might converse cautiously with Lieutenant Ottershaw; who was ready enough to take the hint of George greeting him like a stranger and saying how nice it was to meet someone to share in luncheon conversation.
"Assume we are observed and eavesdropped on" said George quietly. "I will write what I know and what I suspect while we chat; I will ask some fatuous questions."
"Understood" Ottershaw was nobody's fool.
George got out his pocket book.
"I will just record all my toll payments if you will but excuse me a moment" he said "Not excluding what I need to pay for livestock. I like to keep all my transactions secure…. Tell me, Lieutenant, why is a Preventative Officer so far inland? The last I heard, most goods are smuggled by ship."
"Well, Sir, that's because having been smuggled by ship, the goods are taken inland to be sold" said Ottershaw. "You may not know, sir, but the lane just across from this inn, which connects with two drovers' roads, is called Smuggler's Lane locally."
"Oh is it?" Emma put her piece in, managing to look entirely feather headed as the landlord came in to serve the soup and fish. "It's such a pretty lane, running down into that vale with the trees all bedecked in gay autumn finery; I thought it must be called Lovers' Lane for it looks prodigiously romantic!"
"Indeed my dove, it is very pretty" said George "Perhaps we might take a turn down it a little way."
"Oh yes!" said Emma "Though not TOO far I think; I do not want to take cold. I think actually it might be prettier out of the window. Perhaps if we stay over, we might have a room overlooking it. I should like a spencer in shot silk in such pretty autumn colours, George" she added pensively.
"We must see what we can do my dear" said George. It would actually suit Emma very well; how clever of her to think of something so frivolous that she might yet speak about with real longing!
"What smugglers are you hoping to catch, Lieutenant?" asked Emma brightly. "I hope there are none in this inn; such horrid rough types! And I am sure I saw some suspicious fellows lurking outside!"
"I'm afraid, ma'am, you probably saw my men. Lurking is not a skill that they have in abundance."
"Perhaps you should send them further away so they don't alert any smugglers. Right down your smugglers' lane perhaps to hide in the woods."
"If they don't take fright at bogeymen" said Ottershaw gloomily. George casually laid down his notebook as soon as the landlord had removed the soup tureen and fish and brought in the saddle of mutton and game pie; he would have no real excuse to come back in for a while.
Ottershaw glanced over it and stiffened. He looked both chagrined and pleased.
"Do you think this is not an excellent pie?" said George indicating his notebook.
"Oh yes sir; excellent, and well cooked" said Ottershaw "A perfect mix of ingredients; perhaps a few tough pieces."
"But well enough cooked even so to chew" said George.
"Yes; you are correct" said Ottershaw.
George's revelations that the innkeeper was not only well aware of his men but was giving the unsafe signal and that the safe signal was at a farmhouse some mile distant were unpalatable; but that mine host thought that George was a confederate and had confided this to him was at least amusing after a fashion! George's other conjectures about how goods were run was a revelation.
Ottershaw looked forward to finding out whether he was correct or no; and planned to direct all his men - including the ones who were better concealed - to Hook Farm indeed.
Many thanks to Mary Hallett of Itchingfield for helping me with period details for the village. She is a local historian and has written a book about the village school too
Emma was a little disappointed to be out of the showdown - George had been quite firm on that point and Emma knew better to quarrel with that tone of voice. He had however kissed her tenderly and within a passionate embrace had murmured into her ear what he suspected. Emma had been torn between wanting to giggle over the ridiculousness of the notion, horrified at such brazen effrontery, and admiration for her clever husband.
Admiration for her clever husband had won of course; and George had gone forth towards Hook Farm feeling well satisfied with life after a very thorough kissing from his wife.
Farmer Hook was an older edition of Jacob. George passed the time of day chatting about sheep.
"Cotswolds you run here I see" he said.
"Ar; them or Romney Marsh sheep be the ones with the best and longest fleeces that don't look out of place around here" said the farmer. "Reckon they've been back and forth to Findon a few times. Hardy too and don't mind the travel nor nothing extra neither."
"Yes I can see that they'd take that better than Romneys" said George. "I was half tempted by Cotswolds myself; well maybe you might want to have some driven as far as Highbury some time in a private deal."
"Now that's not a half bad idea" said the farmer. "How come our Jacob hasn't never spoken of you afore?"
"Because we only just met" said George. "And found out that we had a few things in common."
Not, he reflected, very many; the knowledge of sheep probably being about the most profound.
It seemed to satisfy the farmer however. George was surprised; and then realisation dawned.
He had spoken about sheep as a conversation starter in the Bricklayers' Arms; but if that had been some kind of code to demonstrate that one was part of the fraternity it would explain why the ale draper had been so forthcoming.
After all, talking about sheep was NOT an obvious conversation starter on entering an inn; though to anyone listening it might even so be innocent enough.
And now he had been passed on to this relative of Jacob's - an older brother, George fancied - who had been informed by the youth Will from the inn that the gentleman knew the passwords.
He turned to scratch the poll of a heifer penned in the yard waiting to be milked to hide the mirth that he felt must overwhelm him at such luck!
Ottershaw and his men had been quietly drifting up towards the farm, except the most unhandy one - a new recruit - who had orders to lurk in the woods off Smuggler's Lane and signal to the Inn if anyone came along the drovers' road.
The poor lad was almost guaranteed to be seen and Hook and his confederates would then have every expectation that a reception committee awaited them at the inn; and would turn aside to head for the farm instead. Ottershaw was fairly certain that the smugglers would not risk killing the youth or harming him seriously; but since he had risked the lives of the rest of the preventatives by his less than nimble manoeuvres he deserved to take the risks; which reason was given as to why he was to be posted where he was.
He was NOT to be told that the rest were to withdraw entirely from the inn.
And as they convened at the farm they started to round up the farm hands and tie them up in an outhouse while Mr Knightley kept the farmer talking.
And then Farmer Hook made excuse to go within and light a candle in an upstairs window as crepuscular gloom crept inexorably over the land; and as he came down, Ottershaw himself seized him and tied him next to his frightened wife. Ottershaw had no illusions about the ability of the wives of smugglers to both scream and fight and had put a pistol in her face and made her sit in a chair while one of his men tied her quite gently but firmly to it; with a loose but efficient gag on her mouth.
And then the bleating of a big herd of sheep might be heard. George stepped into the shadows to permit Hook and the Towse brothers into the farm yard; and one of Ottershaw's more efficient men lurking to close the gate behind them.
"NATHAN!" bellowed Jacob "Where be thee?"
"I'm afraid he's a little tied up right now, Hook" said George stepping forward "But I thought I'd come and inspect my sheep and Lieutenant Ottershaw is here to help me."
"I don't know what he's doin' of here" he said "We'm getting' along bravely, no need for no military to play at bein' shepherds."
"Well you see, Hook" said George gently "He's here because I asked him to be; because I dislike being treated like a flat. And because all the sheep you have are all remarkably long haired. I suggest you put your hands behind you for Lieutenant Ottershaw to tie you up."
"I dunno what you think this is all about or what you hopes to find" said Hook sullenly. "Nothin' here but sheep, see?"
George picked one of his own sheep and ran his hands along its woolly back.
"I have a strap" he said.
A little investigation revealed that slung under the sheep, in an ingeniously contrived bag, was a bottle of brandy.
Each sheep was carrying two bottles concealed by the long hanging wool.
"Literally fleecing the duty" said Ottershaw, delighted with the haul and moved to pun.
George ran through several puns in his own head and decided to let the victory of words go to the lieutenant. Most of the ones he came up with would only make sense to anyone who knew a little about sheep in any case.
Hook was now ashen; and decided to make a break for it.
George had no hesitation.
He might not be a Corinthian like Gervase, to whom boxing was a hobby; but he had learned the art at school and university and he stopped Hook with, as he later described it, a left hook to set Hook right.
"And that's also for David Akehurst who asked me to pass on his ill wishes" said George, absently nursing his knuckles.
The gang onshore was virtually completely broken; and Lieutenant Ottershaw had more than redeemed himself for an unfortunate incident earlier in his career; and might even hope for promotion.
He wrung George's hand.
"Thank you for all your help, Mr Knightley; I could not have managed it without you" he said sincerely.
"You are welcome, Lieutenant!" said George "It's a pernicious trade. Can you arrange a drover to bring my beasts on? And you'll need to milk those cows in the morning, though I've seen them done this evening."
"Oh one of my men is farm bred; I wager he knows what he's doing" said Ottershaw. "And if I mention how good you have been I should think that some of these beasts might be awarded to you; for they'll have to go somewhere."
"Well I won't deny it'll be pleasant" said George. "And you must drop in at Hartfield if you're ever in Highbury!"
"Thank you sir; happen I might at that" said Ottershaw, flushing in pleasure at what was plainly a sincere invitation.
George left him and his men in charge of the sheep hoping devoutly that they might manage to find a suitable drover; and went to collect Emma.
"We'll push on now my dear" he said "My business here is concluded."
"Yes indeed" said Emma "We told papa that we should return on Monday; I should hate for him to be concerned."
George told the whole of it to Emma in the coach; and the time flew as she asked eager questions, and exclaimed over his poor knuckles and had to kiss them better.
Admittedly kissing his knuckles better also involved some kissing of his mouth but George and his knuckles did not seem in the least to mind that woeful demonstration of a lack of understanding of anatomy.
They were in Highbury almost before they knew it; and Henry Woodhouse was indeed anxious.
"POOR Emma! Poor George, out so late… did anything untoward occur to bring you home several hours after dark?" worried Mr Woodhouse.
"Oh nothing to worry about" said George "There was a little trouble over the efficacy of the drover who was bringing the flock we have bought; we had to make a detour to put him on the right road as you might say. There may be a little delay in their arrival but we have some excellent long staple sheep to add to our flocks."
"WITHOUT brandy" giggled Emma
"And so I should hope!" cried Mr Woodhouse "Sheep should not be given brandy! What an idea, Emma! I hope you are not uttering such nonsense through having taken a fever travelling in the noxious night air!"
Emma had to retire to get her giggling under control leaving George to explain that Emma had heard a joke that had affected her greatly that made her laugh a lot.
"Pray tell me so funny a joke!" said Mr Woodhouse. "I could certainly do with cheering up after worrying about you all day and night these past few days!"
"Alas sir" said George gravely "It was so funny a joke that Emma has been unable to repeat it to me without falling into paroxysms of laughter. I trust that apart from your concern for us you have been quite well in Miss Bates' tender care?"
Mr Woodhouse sighed.
"POOR Miss Bates" he said "She tries her hardest but she is not so good at understanding how to make good gruel and a panada as dear Emma is. Though at least" he brightened "As she is not so good a manager it has enabled Miss Bates to have avoided the unfortunate state of matrimony!"