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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 47 FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN TERSON

FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN TERSON

Two days after the rescue of the Queen, on a clear, windless, comfortably cool evening, as he sat in a bed of browning bracken with his back to an oak tree which was just beginning to shed its leaves, in a spinney adjoining a farmstead from which he had lately 'commandeered' half a dozen newly laid brown eggs and a can of fresh creamy milk, Terson was able to suggest to himself that life on the run might have its compensations. He was halfway down the milk, having just polished off his second egg - he liked them raw well enough, but a bit of salt and pepper would not have gone amiss - when a voice adjacent to his left ear said, "Hoo hah, 'oo mus' be 'at cap'n they'm arfter."*

*This rather strange manner of speaking was an example of the 'salt tongue' of the former east coast fisher folk. Though most of their descendants had given up on the dialect, some of the more traditional families still made it a point of pride to retain it.

Terson grabbed his sword which was by his side, sprang up, dropped the milk can on the remaining eggs, and tried to turn towards the voice. His left leg having discovered the mess of milk and broken eggs slid from under him. As he toppled backwards he had the vague idea that something like it had happened to him before. On his way to the ground he struck his head against the trunk of the tree with temporarily dazing force. He dropped the sword. When he opened his eyes he found himself looking into the fierce face of a large, swarthy, red headed, red bearded man, who was brandishing the fallen weapon with a considerable show of aggression.

"Ay, oi do reckon 'oo be 'im."

Terson asked politely, with as much dignity as remained to him, "And if I am who you think I am, what do you mean to do with me?"

"Hall depens."

"Upon what?"

"Hupon 'oo bein' a better sort 'o fellow than 'at there Heevnin Gayzette makes hout - hor not."

"I'm afraid I don't know what the Gay...the paper says about me. But I can guess, though."

"Hand oi can tell 'oo."

"You could just let me speak for myself."

The man pondered on this for a moment or two, before saying, "Well, oi'm lisnin" - he made a few cuts through the air with the sword - "hand oi'm waitin'." He swished the sword once more, with added violence. "Hand 'oo take care!"

"May I sit up?"

"No tricks, moind!"

"No tricks."

Terson leant back once more against the tree and gave his sore head a reflective rub. He looked with wry distaste at the dairy gunge which decorated a boot and a trouser leg.

"Waste o' a bit o' good grub, 'at. Now, what 'ave 'oo to say for theesen?""

"That whatever the paper says, I did not kidnap, or abduct, the Queen. I'm sure it must say something like that."

"Maybe so, maybe nart."

"I helped her to escape. And I had friend..."

"'At 'ud be 'at Rollo, oi reckon."

"Rollo and I rescued Her Majesty from prison."

"Hescape? Rescue? Gayzette don't say hanythin' habout 'at."

"Well, it wouldn't, would it, my friend?"

"Friend? Oi b'aint so sartun 'o 'at."

"You ought to be, if you're on the Queen's side."

The man gave this some thought, before asking, "Hescape where to?"

"To a secret hiding place."

"Where?"

"It wouldn't be secret if I told you."

"Oi bet 'at butler knows where hit his."

"He is there with her."

"'Elping 'er with 'er weaknin'?"

"Her Majesty is not weakening. She is in excellent health."

"But the Gayzette..."

"Look, you can believe the Archdraxite, or you can believe me. She was going to have the Queen killed."

"Killed?"

"Murdered, man!"

Terson got to his feet.

"'Ere!"

"We waste time. We're on the same side, you and I, don't you see? Now, be a good fellow and give me back my sword - before it hurts one of us."

After the briefest of hesitations, the weapon was handed over, and Farmer Jobbins introduced himself. "Come 'oo wi' me," he said, "hand missuss'll give 'oo a proper supper."

If Jobbins trusted this scruffy, dirty, unshaven man in uniform, it was good enough for his wife Azalea, his elder son Lemuel who was nearly eight, and Juthro who was just six. Soon the Captain was sitting down at the kitchen table tucking into thick rashers of fat bacon, slices of crisply fried bread, tomatoes, whopping great big field mushrooms, and fried eggs. While he ate he told his hosts of the rescue of the Queen, and her removal to a place of at least temporary safety. He said that he did not know if the King was likely to return, but if he were to, he would need to know about it as soon as possible.

"Come 'oo wi' me, Cap'n," said Jobbins, when his hungry guest had cleared his plate and drained a second pint of tea.

Terson followed the farmer out of the house, across a yard, past empty sheds ready for cows who in few hours would be eager for their morning milking, through a much pecked and scratched little field sparsely populated by the laggard hens who had not yet joined their companions settling down for the night in their cotes, as well as the proud cockerels who considered it their bounden duty to stay out with them until they did, over a wooden stile, along the side of an apple orchard, through the side door of a rickety looking haybarn, up a narrow stone staircase, and into a loft containing sacks of potatoes and winter feeding mangels.

"'Ere," Jobbins announced, "we may keep wartch." He pointed to a round, brick lined, unglazed window, through which, by a rope and pulley, laden sacks could be raised or lowered. Terson found the aperture to be a perfect spyhole onto the City. All the major landmarks such as the palaces, the Observatory, and the Sun Garden could be seen; but of much greater significance was the entirely uninterrupted view of the Space Centre and all its works: anyone standing at this window, day or night, could not fail to be among the very first to see a returning Ullyses; and any returning ship would be the Ullyses, at least until the freeze on normal space traffic during the 'state of emergency' had been lifted.

Details of the watch were soon worked out, with Jobbins, Azela, and the elder boy - Juthro insisted he would help,too! - all taking turns with the Captain, who would live with them as one of the family. New faces in the farming communities were common enough, for by the very nature of things farms would cease to exist without them. When it came the turn of Jobbins and Azelea to weaken, they would have to call on family and friends to help out until such time as one or both of their children were able to run the farm. This had been the way of things for a century, and, so far as I know, there had never been a farm that had gone under through lack of hands to run it. Remarkable, do not you think?

So, Terson would dress like the Jobinses, work with them, and in the event of visits from such as citizen spies, try to speak like them!

Amongst them all, on this most famous of the farms of Steefax, were sown seeds of friendship which would ripen most pleasantly in due seaon.