Don't tell anyone!
In the last episode, Lord Jo and Patricia smelled a thief; Inky noticed a change in Cadbury; Mr Johnson applauded a nice fall; Mrs Post nearly got straight to the point about her father; whilst Jane and the doctor considered the future of the hole – and a certain person trapped beneath the ground.
As dusk became night on Sunday evening, Cadbury and Inky sat huddled round the fire.
‘Do you think the Kid will mind?’ asked Cadbury, somewhere near heaven. ‘After all, this is her home, and we are sort of – well, gatecrashing.’
‘Gatecrashing? We’re house-sitting!’
‘I think she’ll be delighted,’ said Inky.
‘Sure – eating all her food. She’ll be thrilled.’
‘No, really! We’re just looking after her place until she returns. And in the meantime, I can build up stocks of firewood, and we can buy food we need. We don’t have to use hers; or not all of it. I mean obviously we’ll use some.’
‘Don’t panic – but there’s a ghost over there.’
‘Is this when I’m meant to hit you, for being mad and scaredy cat again?’
‘No, there is, there is. There’s a shrouded figure walking by the river. It could be an old monk ghost.’
‘It couldn’t be an old monk ghost.’
‘Ghosts are people who died unhappy, with unfinished business keeping their souls in loitering mode. That wouldn’t apply to monks, because monks die happy.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Well, I don’t know.’
‘You speak like you do.’
‘I just presumed monks were holy people, so they must die peacefully and be really keen to meet their maker and all that.’
‘Have you met any real life monks?’
‘Then enough of your theories – and look over there!’
Together they looked into the darkness, and there, towards the river, was a shrouded figure.
‘It is an old monk ghost!’ whispered Inky, in horror.
‘Precisely,’ said Cadbury. ‘Why else would a shrouded figure be here?’
Immediately, Inky was up.
‘Let’s go investigating and find out! Perhaps I can conduct an exercisism or whatever it is when ghosts are sent off to eternal rest!’
But he was already away, bounding towards the ghost. Cadbury liked his courage, and then heard him as he called out to the apparition:
‘Hey you! Who are you? We’re your friends! Can I have a word?’
But on seeing him, the shrouded figure decided against a word, disappearing quickly into the night. It must have tripped at some point, because they heard a crash, and some groans. But the figure was lost in the riverside night, and Inky returned to the fire in the Tilting Tower – after a rather interesting discovery.
‘That was no monk ghost,’ said Inky.
‘How do you know?’
‘No monk ghost would curse like that, and in that manner, and using such words – ‘
‘Yes, all right, all right!’
‘And the other thing is – ‘
‘They left a huge basket of fresh provisions for us!’
‘Perhaps it was a kind monk ghost.’
‘Ghosts can’t carry solid objects. But you’re right about being kind. The Kid has a friend out there, who provides her with things. That’s obviously how she survives. I did wonder.’
‘So the question is – who is the shrouded figure?’ asked Cadbury.
‘I sometimes wonder if I was a bit hard on the girl,’ said Alky.
David’s Sunday afternoon in the pub had become a Sunday evening in the pub.
‘Haven’t you got a home to go to?’ the Landlord had asked.
‘No,’ David replied, ‘It fell down this afternoon.’
Alky had replaced Mr Johnson for company, and seemed sad about something or other. Drink does make men rather confessional sometimes, since they can’t talk about their feelings unless drunk.
‘Which girl were you a bit hard on?’ asked David.
‘That Cadbury girl.’
‘I know the one,’ said David. ‘Works in the Post Office.’
‘Does she? Yes, probably.’
‘Sits down by the well, sometimes. I’ve seen her there.’
‘I just think I might have been a little over the top – though she was a damn nuisance!’
‘Young people are a damn nuisance,’ said David. ‘Par for the course.’
‘Do you think so?’ said Alky, visibly cheered. ‘I’ve always found them a damn nuisance myself, certainly. And this girl just went on and on and on. She was lucky I only threw my bedside lamp at her! A very lucky girl.’
‘Your bedside lamp?’
‘And one or two other things, yes. Threw it all at the wretch!’
David contemplated his Goblin’s Ale. This should probably be his last; he wasn’t feeling too bright.
‘She probably dodged them and ran away laughing,’ said David. ‘Kids!’
‘No, they hit her.’
‘They hit her?’
‘Yes, she nearly died from the wounds, apparently – but don’t tell anyone, or I’ll be in all sorts of trouble! No one knows it was me.’
David felt a little queasy all of a sudden. Don’t tell anyone. David’s body didn’t seem to like that phrase – or was it just the drink? David couldn’t be sure, but he was sure of one thing:
‘Time for me to get out,’ said David.
‘Oh, really?’ said Alky, a little disappointed at this sudden desire to leave.
‘Yes, time to get my skates on.’
‘But your home is a pile of rubble. Where can you go?’
‘I don’t know,’ said David.
He just held back from saying: ‘I need to get away from you’; and from smashing Alky in the face with his fist.
As you know, Cromwell had sat in this very same pub, before his Lord Protector days; and fitted in very well by all accounts, displaying no effete mannerisms. But then he was a plain dresser, and didn’t change, even in power. As one observer said at the time, ‘He wore a suit of plain cloth which seemed to have been made by an ill country tailor.’
So when walking up the High Street of Misty Longings, contemplating the disappearance of the gold, Oliver Cromwell probably didn’t cause huge comment; or any comment at all, apart from the usual things that are said about strangers in villages:
‘There be a stranger in our village – I wonder what he be wanting?’
‘They said he was very polite in the shop.’
‘You don’t win a civil war dressed like that!’
‘Speaks like a man from Huntingdon.’
‘Don’t know. But it’s not here, and that’s a fact.’
‘Apparently he’s brought some low-class radical types with him, who have absolutely no sense of either history or tradition!’
‘I prefer the cavaliers – they’re more frilly and gay!’
‘Our chief of men – guided by faith and matchless fortitude. You can see it in his gait.’
‘He don’t look like a king-killer, do he?’
‘What do a king-killer look like then?’
‘I don’t know – but he don’t look like that.’
‘A brave bad man – a man of humility, ambition, justice and fanaticism.’
‘Seditionist! Traitor! Regicide! Racialist! Proto-fascist and blasphemous bigot!’
‘He’s got a nice smile though.’
The buxom village barmaid, Marian, remembered him as a man of about 5’10’‘, with a fiery temper.
‘But compassionate with the distressed, and quite fearless – you could tell that. He feared no one. A large soul, I’d call him. And I do remember he smoked a pipe while he was here. Yes, he sat in the corner window there, smoking a pipe.’
And Marian also remembered the famous incident with the five-minute portrait artist, who offered to paint Cromwell as he sat in the window seat with his ale. What did Marian particularly remember?
‘Well, most famous people, when they have their portrait painted, they like to make it as though they look better than they really do. But not Oliver Cromwell, even though he had this enormous wart! If it had been me, I would have said something like ‘Lose the wart!’ But not Mr Cromwell. I remember his words exactly: ‘Keep all the roughnesses, pimples and warts; otherwise I will never pay you a farthing!’‘
Oh no, Misty Longings would not forget Oliver Cromwell in a hurry! And perhaps he wouldn’t forget Misty Longings either!
Meanwhile, the resident of Cromwell’s, the very house where the great man lodged, was still trying to get to the point, cut to the chase and not beat about the bush. But it was all taking a very long time, and Rex felt obliged to intervene:
‘So your father was an alcoholic, was evicted from the home, and became what I believe they call ‘a gentleman of the road.’‘
‘That’s right. And I didn’t find that very easy, so obviously I didn’t see him for a long time.’
‘It was disgraceful.’
Yet he was still my father, and to that extent, to be respected – though really, what was there to respect?’
‘And he started visiting you in the village?’
‘Yes. And then he got himself on Dr Hafiz’s books as well, using this address!’
‘And he would turn up at your door drunk, asking for money and food?’
‘That’s right – and it was all most embarrassing, because I have a reputation to maintain. I hardly want to be seen as the daughter of some dirty old tramp, who drinks too much!’
‘Yet he was also your father. So you did take him in sometimes?
‘Until one day, he disappeared. What happened?’
Mrs Pump didn’t usually ‘do’ for Lord Jo on a Sunday afternoon. But after yesterday’s upsets, she had offered to come in and make sure everything was in hand.
‘That’ll be very good,’ said Lord Jo. ‘And then, Mrs Pump, you must stay for an early evening drink. I have some special entertainment lined up!’
Well, she was hardly going to say ‘No’, was she?
More of The Village