After being arrested by the custard-covered, paint-splashed policeman, the gang of eight protesters was placed into Fekenham Police Station’s single cell. It was a room built to house no more than four at a push. Eight was an uncomfortable number made all the more unpleasant as both Primrose and Rose were still naked. Not that Ted or Herman complained even though the ladies nipples were extended to a dangerous degree. Eventually, PC Jock Strap arrived, having showered, wearing a clean uniform, while bearing two blankets for the shivering females. Ted Sandpip turned snarling upon the hapless Strap.
“How much longer do you intend t’ keep us locked up here in this shoebox of a cell?”
Strap stuttered a mumbled response as Sergeant Updike appeared at his shoulder.
“Throwing cans o’ paint at policemen is a criminal offensive,” replied the malapropistic sergeant and law keeper, “so is dabbling graffiti on walls not t’ mention hurtling exploding custard bombs then running naked around the place.”
“But Cyril,” whined Rose Buckshot, “I’m bloody freezing.”
“Should have kept your clothes on then,” said an unsympathetic Cyril who shut the cell door, calling out over his shoulder as he departed, “a solicitor is on his way from Muckleford. He should be here within the hour, if you need t’ keep warm best t’ bounce around a bit.”
The idea did have appeal for Ted and Herman but not for the other members of the gang.
The one person who welcomed the diversion created by the political shindigs was Flora Gusset. Whilst attention was focused on the Anti-Corn Tax she and her friends were able to make their plans. They didn’t give a fig whether Rose Buckshot was freezing her assets. They were happy that local bobbie Cyril was otherwise engaged.
With Cyril on duty, the job of taking Cybil home with her new-born son fell upon Eileen and Harvey Lovelock. It was less a job but more a pleasure for the couple. A great deal of attention was given to the infant. There was much cooing and face-pulling performed by Harvey whilst Eileen, the more practical of the two grandparents, organised Cybil by helping to pack her hand luggage.
When the family arrived home at the post office Ralph Ramhard and Elvis Linkthorpe were waiting. Both men were holding bouquets. The one person missing was Verity who had again disappeared for yet another meeting with a business colleague. Ralph had said nothing. He felt both hurt and annoyed but also fearful of what these so-called meetings were really about. He knew full well who Ken Stark was but couldn’t quite see why the leader of the Tory party would want to have business meetings with a school’s head mistress.
Cybil showed no outward signs of anything apart from being happy. This exultant state was taken for granted as being the natural way for a new mother to behave but of course no one could see inside Cybil’s head. If they had they would have seen a woman who was truly ecstatic over the birth of little Jonah but who was also deeply disappointed not to have seen her birth mother among the well-wishers. She felt unable to reveal her true feelings to anyone other than Cyril. Her mother, Eileen Lovelock, would have done anything for her adopted daughter but Cybil couldn’t say a word for fear of upsetting Eileen by implication. For if she, Cybil, made it known how upset she was by Verity’s absence then Eileen might misunderstand, believing Verity more important than herself in Cybil’s eyes. Of course that wasn’t the case but it still left the Fekenham postmistress with a conundrum.
Elvis Linkthorpe was feeling as pleased as punch. He had no intention of assuming the role of grandfather as he accepted that was Harvey Lovelock’s job but nonetheless the baby was still of his blood therefore he fully proposed to join in the celebration. He was a little mystified by Verity’s absence.
Before leaving the vicarage he had said goodbye to Susanne who was off to finish the preparatory work on the brothel. Linkthorpe fully accepted the concept of his lover’s business now as it appeared to have caused few ripples within the community. This was possibly because few people fully understood Susanne’s real intention. Linkthorpe thought of the shop as being a form of community service. Gentlemen would call seeking a form of solace which would be supplied by the ladies of the establishment. The question of money exchanging hands, thereby negating any altruistic purpose, passed the vicar by. He still hadn’t informed Lupini of Delores Dewhip’s involvement, thinking it best to keep quiet on that matter.
Verity’s meeting was brief. Having mulled over Ken Stark’s proposal she had decided to accept his proposition. She kissed him lightly on the cheek, laughed at his suggestive hug, then said goodbye. She drove home to find Ralph had already left to take the flowers to Cybil so she sat down at her desk to write her resignation. She hadn’t yet told anyone of her resolve to leave her post as Headmistress of Fekenham Senior School, not even Ralph.
It was not a decision she had made lightly. She had spent many an hour mulling over the pro’s and con’s but at the end of the day she was certain she was doing the right thing.
As ever with Verity, the focus of her attention had been on the matter in hand. The birth of her grandson had taken second place. It was not part of her nature to be selfish or thoughtless but once something had gained her attention she became single-minded. When she wanted something, or someone, she became obsessed, remaining so until she had achieved her goal. The truth was she was overjoyed to be a grandmother even if she had to concede her grandparental rights and position to Cybil’s adoptive mother. Now though she was dreading having to face Ralph.
She concluded her writing, folded the letter then placed it into an envelope affixing a first class stamp as she did. With her left hand she tapped the letter against her lips deep in thought. Then, in a moment of decisive action she placed the letter onto a side table. The letter could wait, she decided. Her first priority should be with Cybil, her Amy, her daughter. She snatched up the house keys then went outside. Ralph had taken his Aston Martin but Verity’s bicycle sat in a corner of the drive.
As Verity made ready to cycle over to see Cybil and Jonah, so Ruth Crabtree arrived at the Post Office. They had come armed with yet another large bouquet of flowers. Upon seeing Ruth walk in, Cybil burst into tears. Ralph looked at the vicar who stared steadfastly at his shoes, a splendid pair of army surplus boots that he had purchased from the Army and Navy store in Muckleford. Eileen Lovelock tugged on hubby Harvey’s sleeve nodding at the door as she did.
“We better be going luv, I got yer Dad’s dinner t’cook. We’ll pop in again t’morrow t’ see how you are.”
With that she, followed by
, planted kisses on
their daughter’s cheek. They left with a fluster of fabric and a flutter of
their hands. As of one accord, as if by some unseen signal, so the vicar and
Ralph also bade Cybil goodbye. Linkthorpe hovered over his grandson then with a
sudden swoop kissed the tiny infant on his forehead. He flicked a smile at
Cybil then walked out of the door. Ralph lightly touched the boy’s face before
giving Cybil a hug. Harvey
“I’ll be back later in the week. If you, Jonah or Cyril need anything, just shout.”
Ruth smiled at Ralph as he left then she turned to Cybil, wrapping her arms about her friend’s shoulders in a warm embrace.
“Well, look at you all glowing. You look like the first mother, all fresh and rosy.”
As the words left Ruth’s lips then danced into Cybil’s ears so Cybil burst into tears again.
“Hey, hey, hey,” said Ruth, “it’s just your hormones running wild, don’t take on so.”
Cybil smiled weakly as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. What’s really daft is that I am so happy but every time I think about Jonah or Cyril or Verity or see you walk in I just feel a flood of emotion well up inside me.”
“It’s called the post natal blues or something,” said Ruth, hugging Cybil again.
“How are you?” asked Cybil, dabbing her eyes with a corner of her hankie.
“Fine,” replied Ruth as she released her hold on Cybil.
Cybil looked directly at her friend who had turned away and was looking down on the sleeping Jonah.
“Don’t tell fibs. You are not at all alright. How’s Neil? Are you and he okay?”
Ruth sighed as she gently stroked Jonah’s face.
“He’s fine. Being with him is wonderful. He is a good lover and a kind, gentle man.”
Ruth threw her hands up as though in surrender. The sudden movement startled the baby boy who opened his eyes, stared vacantly, made a soft sound then settled back to sleep.
“Oh, I don’t know. I like him, I like him very much but he’s so intense. He says he loves me, I know he wants to marry me but it is all too soon. I have only just separated from Dafid.”
Cybil stood up then walked toward the kitchen.
“Are you okay to be moving about?” queried Ruth.
“Yes, of course I am. Having a baby leaves you terribly sore and tired but I am on the mend. Cup of tea?”
Jonah slept on, blissfully unaware of the slow-building hiss followed by the whistle of the kettle. The rattle of crockery as Cybil took mugs from her cupboards didn’t disturb him either. A world outside waited to greet him with a rush of colours and a confusion of scents. For now though sleep claimed him in a warm cocoon of comfort. The late October sun had fled the sky only to hide behind a large group of clouds. Autumn was racing toward winter as leaves faded from green to yellow. Jonah was unaware of all of this. Jonah slept on.
Cybil poured the water onto the leaves stirring the brew with a wooden spoon. She pointed toward the kitchen table indicating for Ruth to sit.
“While the pot is brewing would you like a slice of cake?” asked Cybil.
“No thanks, just the tea.”
Cybil took a large cake out from within an even larger tin. She placed the cake onto the bread board before cutting a large piece. She took a big bite then sat down facing Ruth.
“Since giving birth I have been famished. I feel constantly hungry. I think I could eat for
She giggled at the thought then looked at Ruth.
“I keep thinking about David.” said Ruth.
“Yes, my guilty pleasure. I have never told anyone about him apart from you.”
Cybil finished eating her cake then got up to cut another slice. She returned to the table with her mouth half filled.
“Do you love him?”
“In love with the thought of him maybe, I don’t know. The whole affair was so magical, so wrong but so filled with an inexplicable dreamlike quality. I felt as though I had entered another world when I was with him.”
“I feel like that with Cyril sometimes. He comes from Mars and I come from Venus.”
Ruth giggled then continued.
“You still love him though don’t you?”
“Of course I do even if he does mess all his words up. Men and women are like that aren’t they; different in so many ways?”
Ruth got up from the table just as Cybil rose from her chair.
“I’ll pour, you sit.”
There was a timid knock on the door as though someone knew that a baby was sleeping.
“Who on earth is that?” asked Cybil.
“I don’t know but I wish they hadn’t knocked. There is so much I want to talk to you about.”
“Perhaps they won’t stay long.” said Cybil moving toward the post office entrance; As soon as she entered the shop she could see the elegant shape of Verity Ramhard nee Lambush. The Fekenham Senior School Headmistress was holding a package. Cybil opened the door then threw her arms about Verity’s neck.
“I am so pleased to see you,” she said, bursting into tears again.
From inside the kitchen Ruth sighed in exasperation. Like Cybil, Ruth too had attended Fekenham Senior but unlike Cybil did not share the same sentiment about her old school mistress. Ruth found Verity to be too full of herself and a horrible snob to boot. Ruth pulled another mug from the cupboard as Verity walked in
“Cup of tea?” she enquired of Cybil’s birth mother with a fixed smile.
During the so-called riots Flora Gusset had gone to the circus, neither as a member of the audience nor as a performer but to meet with the travellers. They greeted her with courtesy mixed with a degree of surprise. She seemed a nice enough person offering to anyone who wanted one a cigar. No one did so she smoked alone. They offered her gypsy tea from a large brown teapot to which she gratefully accepted. Together they drank the dark brew that stained the mug with rings of ochre. They spoke of Fekenham but also of the lands they had visited; of disparate regions they had come from and how they had met. Flora told them that she had spent the last twenty years traveling around
She had been born in Herefordshire some seventy years ago, had never married nor ever wanted to. She had gone to
Europe after meeting a group of people with whom she
became friends. She said she had never stayed in one place long, that home was
a strange concept to her. They said they liked Albion.
She said she didn’t. She sat with a man called Henk Eijsackers. He said he was
Dutch. He was tall but slight of frame with a long forehead the flowed down to
a long nose. When she asked him how long the circus intended to stay in
Fekenham he had smiled,
replying that it would be for a month or two, suggesting they would be gone by Christmas. Then she
left them with a smile, a smile filled with large teeth. Flora went back to the
Micklethwaite’s where she ran herself a bath. Reclining in the hot water she
made a firm decision. She too would be gone by Yuletide.
As the riots were taking place so Jarvis Crunch had been stealing information from Parminter Fullcock. Jarvis had waited patiently after his first attempt had failed, waiting for the right moment to present itself. It came when Parminter had taken his wife Henrietta to a hospital appointment.
Deidre Corncob had left the office to deliver the work sheets to Toby Foxglove. As she walked away she had left Parminter’s office door open. Jarvis moved in like a whippet heading straight for the file that lay unguarded on the desktop. He picked it up, shoved it deep within his works overall, then fled the scene as quickly as he could.
He had arranged to meet that evening with Regus Nasaltwist. He intended to present the Tory Chief Whip with the file which should help to derail Fullcock’s political campaign. Following Andrew Flair’s almost perverse announcement regarding his proposed Corn Tax there was little need to do much to harm Parminter’s campaign; it was damaged enough already by his leader’s plans.
Jarvis Crunch didn’t like Regus Nasaltwist. It wasn’t the man’s arrogance, his enormous ego. It wasn’t even his offhand manner, it was more a case of Jarvis being unconvinced of the Tory Whip’s commitment to the cause. Nasaltwist did not seem sincere at all. There was no genuine passion. It was as if the man was using the Brethren for his own warped ends. The problem was that Jarvis couldn’t figure out what those ends were. He had felt the same about Rupert Snatch-Kiss too. The only person who had been truly dedicated had been Hazel Thorny.
There was something phony about Regus Nasaltwist. It was not the man’s desire to cause harm to the Whig party, that was self-evident but his methods, his way of using the Brethren as his henchmen, that did not feel right.
Jarvis had been approached four years ago by a man called Flinders Halftackle to set up a right wing organization based in
. Why Fekenham, a sleepy
little village, had been selected had never been explained. Flinders had spoken
of Hazel Thorny and of Rupert Snatch-Kiss but never of Regus Nasaltwist. When
Snatch-Kiss had been appointed to head the Fekenham chapel it had come as some
surprise to Jarvis as he had expected Hazel Thorny, who moved in to the village
at almost the same time as the millionaire industrialist, to become the group’s
The events that followed saw Snatch-Kiss temporarily defeated. He had been forced out of the Brethren by that damn American Ralph Ramhard. It was then that Hazel, with due stealth and secrecy, filled his position. Even then Jarvis had doubts. There was something that didn’t quite sit right and he couldn’t think what it was. Now though, the Fekenham chapel of the Brethren was sorely depleted. Many members had left feeling that the organization was too extreme for their tastes. As the membership had dwindled so had support from above. The only contact with the hierarchy was via Regus Nasaltwist and he gave no sense of leadership at all.
Nasaltwist sat in the darkened recess of the public house; a shadowy figure surrounded by deeper shadows. Jarvis Crunch sat before him.
“Did you bring the item I asked for?” enquired Nasaltwist.
Jarvis shook his head.
Not used to being told no, Nasaltwist looked on dumbfounded.
Jarvis licked his lips nervously.
“He had removed it from where he normally keeps it. He might have taken it home with him.”
Nasaltwist sighed heavily.
“That is a blow. Do you have any idea of the nature of the file’s contents?”
“Every bit of detail you wanted is in there. Not just the Whig party forthcoming Wessex election manifesto but also all the correspondence between Fullcock and Grainger Giddyup but also some private, highly confidential material sent from Andrew Blair.”
Regus Nasaltwist licked his lips. He looked shark-like and predatory.
“Anything salacious?” queried Nasaltwist with a glimmer in his dark eyes.
“Salacious, no, incriminating possibly.”
Nasaltwist sat forward. His excitement was evident. His forehead glistened with sweat.
“In what way?”
Crunch saw the almost demonic delight in the eyes of the Tory Chief Whip. He truly was a predatory creature and was now prepared to pounce.
“Before we discuss that,” replied Fullcock’s board director, “there is the pressing matter of the Brethren.”
A fierce and terrible colour change from black to green flashed across Nasaltwist’s eyes. He didn’t so much speak as snarl.
“What bloody pressing matter?”
“The Fekenham Chapel has no leader, no Supreme English. It is situation that needs remedying.”
Regus Nasaltwist visibly relaxed. His irises returned to the normal colour.
“My dear chap, the solution is right there before us. We already have our Supreme English elect.”
Crunch looked bemused.
Nasaltwist smiled rakishly.
“Yes, we do. My dear chap, you are the duly elected Supreme English.”
Nasaltwist extended his right hand and Jarvis Crunch instinctively took hold of it.
“But we only have three members now,” complained Crunch.
Nasaltwist smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to observe.
“As Supreme English your job is not only to lead but to recruit. Not to worry though, you are the man for the job. I’m sure you will do splendidly.”
Jarvis Crunch had the distinct impression he had just been hoodwinked.
“Now then,” said Nasaltwist baring his teeth in a facsimile smile, “tell me more about this folder of Fullcock’s and how you are going to get hold of it for me.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.