A country lane at sunset
In the last episode, Billy was removed from the hole, Mrs Post put a letter to one side, wondered about Cadbury, and found herself charmed by Algernon on the phone. Across the village, Cadbury crawled from a ditch, Lord Jo drove fast and Dr Hafiz was concerned about a missing patient.
Jane stood waiting with the eggs by the village well – but Cadbury never came.
Cadbury had a boiled egg every morning with wholemeal toast. ‘You lose weight by having an egg everyday,’ Cadbury had told Jane. ‘They said so on the radio!’
‘But you’re as thin as a rake!’ Jane had said.
‘Even so – don’t want to be like the people of Deep Longings. They’re quite fat.’
By Jane’s reckoning, Cadbury had run out of eggs this morning. And as she only ate the eggs from Jane’s chickens, and always collected at this time, Jane knew something must be wrong.
She made her way to the Post Office to see if she could find out more.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs Post.’
‘Good afternoon, Jane.’
All as cordial as lime so far.
‘I was a little concerned about Cadbury,’ said Jane.
‘No need to be concerned about that girl.’
‘Yet I remain so,’ said Jane, ‘and I wondered if you could shed some light on her movements?’
‘She was happy enough to go on an errand for me this morning.’
‘Indeed, she left in a great hurry,’ said Jane. ‘She seemed to ‘want out’ as I believe they say.’
Mrs Post looked puzzled.
‘I was here when she left,’ said Jane. ‘Remember?’
‘Ah, yes,’ said Mrs Post. ‘Well, she was off to drop a note to Mr Key. Straightforward enough; can’t imagine any problems. And she does like her errands! We must hope she’s all right, of course.’
Jane discerned a slight tension in Mrs Post’s voice. To one more stupid, this could have been mistaken for concern, but Jane recognized the guilt. ‘Would this have been a note Algernon was pleased to receive?’ asked Jane, when she heard of the errand.
‘Well, why ever not?’
‘Given that he attended a college reunion in London last night, didn’t get back til six in the morning, and will have been drunk.’
‘It is hardly my job to decide whether people will be pleased to receive their post!’ said Mrs Post, in spluttering amusement. ‘That would require rather special powers of deduction! And a lot of undelivered bills!’
Jane managed a thin smile. ‘Indeed. But this wasn’t the post, of course – it was a note.’
‘An important note; post of a kind.’
‘So why didn’t you take it?’
‘Because I didn’t want her going into –’
Mrs Post pulled herself up.
‘You didn’t want her going into where?’ asked Jane.
‘It is really of no importance,’ said Mrs Post in a business-like manner. ‘And anyway, I’ve dealt with all this. I spoke to Algernon about it, and he was quite charming.’
Jane sensed the dissonance, as a wood pigeon alighted on the post office windowsill.
‘I will bid you good day, Mrs Post,’ she said. ‘And one day, you must tell me all about that man who came to see you. Wasn’t there once a mystery man knocking on your door? It all sounded very intriguing.’
‘How did the old witch know?’ wondered Mrs Post, after Jane had left.
As Jane got on her bike, and set off towards The Palace, The Kid lay in the clearing, her body drinking in the last of the winter sun. The water had washed much of the blood away from her hands, and she was touched into wellbeing by the pale lantern in the sky.
‘I was conceived by the sun, and all in me is light!’ she said to herself. ‘Leaping, swooning, terrifying light!’
How good life could be. Sometimes she felt her body too small to contain all the wonder and the glory. This was her village! Why had she thought she did not belong? Of course she belonged. She regretted running as she had from the hole; for this was her village, and if only she could speak, she would have shouted it to the trees.
Lord Jo would not have agreed, though; not at all. He definitely thought it was his village, as he sped down the road to wards The Palace, in his super fast black 4 by 4. He’d left a message with Mrs Pump about the evening meal, so that was sorted. Tonight, he’d deal with Patricia, once and for all. Not literally, obviously; he wasn’t planning to kill her! But he’d find out what it was she wanted exactly, and why she was bothering him.
‘I’m a businessman – not some f***ing knight in shining armour, looking for a good cause and a Guinevere!’
The following things are now happening, all at the same time: Cadbury leaving the ditch, and starting the slow crawl across the road; Lord Jo deciding to make a phone call while still driving, which is not a good idea, and Jane finding blood, and a shard of turquoise china, by Algernon’s front door. Lord Jo touched 80 mph along the lane; Jane left the The Palace front door, following Cadbury’s blood trail back down the path. Seeing in one moment the crawling body of Cadbury on the road, and a speeding black 4 by 4 approaching, Reality Jane picked up a stone and lobbed it in the air. As it climbed into the sky, Cadbury saw the oncoming car – and Billy saw no purpose in hanging around the pub.
Billy was being looked after in The Dog and Whistle, but already felt awkward.
‘You’ve just got to try and tone it down,’ said Patricia. ‘We’re all with you, Billy, but this behaviour isn’t helping.’
‘All with me? Who’s ever been with me? You all hate me!’
‘Hate’s a strong word, Billy.’
‘And a truthful one!’
‘No one hates anybody – this is a village!’
‘You two – you hate each other, and that’s a fact!’
Patricia and Mrs Pump looked at each other briefly.
‘No, that’s quite different,’ said Patricia. She wondered if Dr Hafiz was free yet, because frankly, she was losing patience with young Billy. She had given him a lot of time, and he was proving anything but appreciative. ‘Ye Gods!’ she thought to herself, ‘How I hate him sometimes!’
And that’s Patricia saying that, and she was a saint – so in a way, what hope the rest of us?
‘We should call you ‘A and E’,’ said Mrs Pump to Billy, speaking as a nurse. ‘Accident and Emergency. I’ve seen a few of those in my time, nasty ones, and that’s where you’ll end up, with your stupid raging.’
‘My stupid raging?! My stupid f***ing raging??!’
‘Just a manner of speech,’ said Mrs Pump, taken aback by his unnecessary aggression. But Billy was gone, out through the door, off down the street, hobbling back to the hidden places. He staggered passed Rex in Narrow Lane.
‘Morning has broken!’ shouted the cheerful cleric.
‘Morning broke a long time ago, Fido,’ said Billy in a hurry.
Fido? Now where did the young scallywag get that name from?! When would people ever learn the correct form of address for a priest?
‘And no one can mend it!’ added Billy. ‘Morning has broken, and no one can f***ing mend it! No one.’
Oh dear! Billy back to his old ways, with a capital ‘W’. Was he heading for the police station? Rex hoped not, and crossed himself at the thought. ‘May he not go to the police station and wind up in further trouble!’ prayed Rex.
But Billy wasn’t going to the police station. Billy had had a better idea, and knew exactly where he was going.
Meanwhile, Jane watched as the stone climbed. It climbed high in the chilling air, reached the peak of ascent, paused between climb and fall, still for a moment against black sky, and then began the descent, dropping down – speeding, falling, dropping, down, down, smash!
The stone smashed into the window of the speedy black 4 by 4, whose driver dropped the phone, fell forward, and ran the car blind off the road, screeching and crunching into ditch and hedge. Cadbury lay still in the road. The weak winter sun had given way to damp shadow across the winding country lane.
‘Are you all right, dear girl?’ asked Jane of Cadbury.
‘I’m going to be a well girl,’ said Cadbury with a bloodied smile.
‘You will stay with me tonight, at Rose Cottage. We’ll need to clean you up.’
Jane helped Cadbury to the side of the road.
Who should then appear alongside them, but Inky, delivering Alky’s side of pork!
I won’t go into how upset Inky was at the scene he discovered on that country lane. We’ll just say that he was very upset, and let that be the end of it. He didn’t know whether to touch and cuddle Cadbury to reassure her, or stand back in manly certainty that all was well, now he was here. He attempted both and achieved neither.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Jane. Jane was rather cold about all his hysteria, and after calming him down – or ‘returning him to earth’, as she put it – she instructed him about what he needed to do.
Inky went off at top pedalling speed. In the gathering gloom, his bike light bobbed like a fading star – an ever more distant red as it disappeared down the lane. Jane now approached the steaming, hissing vehicle, noticing the hard lines of the bush against the darkening horizon, which still contained an orange tint.
Lord Jo lay across the wheel of his car.
They do say that one false step is never retrieved. We must hope it to be otherwise in this story.
More of The Village