We now jump a chapter, continuing with where the circus, having arrived, meets Flora Gusset and both get to know the villagers....
During the day the circus was a sleeping monster. Its vehicles gathered in a tight formation beside the big top. Zebras, camels and a squabbling pack of dogs roamed within segmented pens braying, eating grass or barking loudly. Men dressed in braces and wearing felt hats could be seen walking to and from various caravans carrying heavy mallets or other tools. There was a degree of industry about the area but it wasn’t until night drew in deep and dark that the circus came alive. It was then the monster flexed its muscle with a profusion of lights accompanied by the calliope sound that haunted the village green of Fekenham Swarberry.
It wasn’t just the residents of Fekenham who came to part with their hard earned cash but also those of Wick, Muckleford and of Arkenfelt and Birchtickle. They arrived in droves, parents holding the hands of excited children many of whom had never seen a real live circus before. As they entered the roped-off area that contained the circus and its vehicles, having paid for their tickets, the first thing they encountered was the stall selling candy floss on a stick. Huge, voluminous amounts of sugar candy wrapped loosely around a wooden cane that the children, not knowing how one should eat such delights, simply thrust their faces with mouths opened wide into the centre of the sticky confection.
Set in cages were the lions and tigers that seemed fearfully large but didn’t appear particularly fierce. In fact they all seemed quite docile. Not one of the felines roared nor did they bare their fearsome fangs. Clowns capered in fantastic, garish costumes appearing ominously comic. The acts were truly breath-taking. Boris the Human Blob stomped on spongy feet to the centre of the ring where the ringmaster announced that Boris’s lovely assistant Lavinia would fire a loaded rifle at the Human Blob in defiance of common sense and reasoning. This she did and with theatrical flourish Boris fell to the floor as if he had been poleaxed. The crowd all uttered gasps of horror then a sepulchral silence settled over the big top before someone in the audience screamed. At this point, as if by signal, Boris rose up and flung his arms wide. The audience let out another gasp which was shortly followed by riotous laughter. What a trick, but of course everyone really knew Boris hadn’t been shot, or so they later claimed.
Then Flavia the Fish woman was wheeled out on a glass table covered with dripping towels. The ringmaster announced Flavia’s name informing the audience that the soaking wet towels were keeping the Fish Woman alive, that she couldn’t remain out of water long. To this end a large glass tank was wheeled in and placed next to Flavia. She held her hands out and two burly men took each in theirs then assisted her as she staggered toward the glass tank. Lifting her up they slid Flavia into the clear liquid until she was thoroughly immersed. The two men then departed only for one of them to return with a huge clock. Flavia then remained under water for a further five minutes until both men wheeled the tank away into the dark corner of the big top.
The ringmaster returned in his red coat with tails and his stove-pipe hat. He announced to the crowd that they should look up to the heavens for the next act which, without the use of a safety net, would fly as no trapeze act had flown before. The Twins Turbo then leapt from one swing to another with all the inscrutable ease of flying squirrels. They spun then tumbled turning hair-raising somersaults that really did appear to defy gravity.
Next appeared the Old Lion Tamer Zagreb whose act was not quite as stupendous as the previous. Oh, he stuck his head inside a lion’s mouth but the beast was bored, listless and seemingly without teeth There didn’t appear to be any real danger, even the tiger, which did at least make some sort of show by yawning a bit thereby showing off its yellowing fangs and its stained gums, but by and large the money paying public were less than impressed.
The consequence of having a circus in the area, for which the denizens of Fekenham were grateful, was the sudden increase in business. Molly Sharptack’s Tea Rooms throbbed with activity as people from around the towns and hamlets previously mentioned arrived seeking refreshment. The Frog and Radiator, along with Ralph’s restaurant, The Duck, saw a massive increase in trade. The circus was a money-making event; one that benefited Fekenham enormously.
Ralph remained concerned over Verity’s ‘business meetings.’ She still dismissed them without ever revealing who she was seeing or why. The name of Ken Stark, who Ralph knew to be the leader of the Tory opposition, became synonymous with feelings of jealousy. Ralph spent as much time as he could overseeing the day-to-day running of what was fast becoming a thriving business, an unexpected runaway success. When owned by Arnold Purenose the Duck and Dragon, as it was formerly known, had barely broke even. Since Ralph’s purchase of the public house, turning it into a swanky restaurant, the business was making a healthy profit.
Ralph felt justifiably proud of the enterprise and was not surprised when a young Chinese woman walked in asking if he had any jobs. She was young; no more than thirty, slim with almond eyes and an aquiline nose.
The idea that all oriental people are short is of course nonsense. This young female was tall and rather elegant. Her name was Yue Zedong.
“Have you worked tables before?” asked Ralph.
“Yes, as a student in
“Okay, I will give you a trial. I expect a certain quality of service from the people who work for me but if you perform well you will be rewarded.”
They shook hands and so a deal was made that would change the march of history.
Flora Gusset had found suitable accommodation at the Micklethwaite’s who, although farmers by trade, also ran a modest bed and breakfast. The room suited Flora perfectly as it was small but neat. She paid a week’s rent in advance before settling down to do more knitting. Mrs Micklethwaite would later state that Flora was no bother but that she, Mrs Micklethwaite, never really knew what Flora did. The only thing discovered after the event was a large bag of woollen effigies.
Each morning the diminutive dame would walk the distance from Micklethwaite Farm to Fekenham where she would wander around the indecorously named High Street wherein the Post Office stood. Flora would enter the shop with a ‘tring’ of the bell then speak with Cybil Updike about all manner of things from weather to wind vanes, from farmers to fish paste. Cybil thought Flora to be nice enough but very inquisitive to which Mille Mead, upon hearing such an opinion, stated she detested nosey people - a clear case of pots calling kettles black.
On a Wednesday, Flora would drive to Muckleford where she would deposit a small sum of money into her
account. Then she would go for a drive around the area,
taking in as many villages as she could find.
On Sundays, Flora attended St Whipplemore’s where Elvis Linkthorpe preached his deviant gospel that included not only the words of Jesus but of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius and George Harrison. The vicar was very fond of The Beatles, especially the band’s final album, “Band on the Run.” He played it often and loudly too. His congregation didn’t seem to mind.
Every evening, Flora would frequent the Frog and Radiator where she would read palms and tea leaves from the bottom of a cracked teacup. The villagers all enjoyed a bit of the mystical and Flora provided ample amounts for them to mull over. Flora seldom drank anything but tea and, as neither Lupini nor Arthur seemed to mind, this odd aberration was overlooked.
At ten she would leave, then make her way back to the B and B. She would wash herself in the small hand basin, don a cotton nightgown then place her dentures in a glass of water that she kept beside the bed.
It wasn’t until the second week of her stay that she started to visiting the circus but only during the hours of daylight. The travelling folk were less inclined to pass judgement on people who didn’t quite fit the accepted mould. Flora fitted that description perfectly. The circus folk took to her at once. She even knitted woollen dollies for their children. She would smile as she entered the encampment, knowing her plans were coming together nicely. Of course only she knew what those plans were.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.