Our setting is the Fen land-reed beds of East Anglia,
The year is 1864,and Alice is about to enter and fall down a most terrifying hole.Proving terrifying adventures can be found just by chance anywhere, and by far including this mystifying start of one here,because even in its ending the mystery will continue elsewhere.
As the fast paced bindweed flowers, along the waterways
our story begins upon a magical glorious day,
and one in which it felt good to be young healthy
and strong enough to work with ones hands,
and put ones back into it. Such is the vigour of youth.
The boats are up river way past the white washed Mill
The river slow and peaceful in its flow and reflections.
A gentle breeze fill the sails of the gliding Norfolk Wherry,
only visible by its black barge sails cutting through the reeds.
The golden sway itself resembling a sea of flax,
and here and there tiny flint church towers seen above it,
seem sunken deep within this waving movement of golden silk.
The children with pretty smiles wave from the river bank,
and the Doctor of higher mathematics raise`s his hat upon high,
as the little boats pass them by.
It was a lazy day and for some like Alice , a fast falling asleep day.
However for the lower working class it was one of hard graft.
During the hard sweat of this day__it was by chance that while cutting the reed beds by those that do so for building roofs,that Sam Whittle Downe, noticed something very strange. He and another younger man by four years had come across an old rusted gate well settled and fixed into two red brick columns either side of it. To some it might not seem strange at all for a young man of seventeen to come across an old iron gate,but this gate was no ordinary one for shutting. It was an ornate double gate bearing a crest upon a shield of a raised Lion & Unicorn,all encrusted heavily in corroding rust. Vastly overgrown by wicked brambles, bindweed, and a forest of tall stinging nettle it seemed to young Arnie, to be very well protected as the darn sting of those things sure burned hot through his cotton leggings and upon his bare arms.
Their boat now tied up to a rod of iron hammered into the soggy wet river bank of waving reed,and it being full of fresh cut flax, was very well secured and it resembled that of a small island of floating haystack upon the river. Cold tea,drunk from a bottle,and bread and cheese scoffed down in hungry hast had been their midday meal. Passing the bottle to each other in turn their shared bread crumbs were duly swallowed down with every swig.
"Lets stretch our legs." Arnie, suggested. "OK lets but only for a short time,or we`ll cop it off Old Broad Moors, that's for certain." So heading away from the river, while making a pathway of sorts through the high reeds, the tall grass and Stinging Nettles,they had gone about 60 or so strides for a fit man,when there it was, a railing gate with wicked spear-like points heavily overgrown with rampant stuff, and shut tight and held so by an old red rusted chain of heavy iron links.There was no padlock hung from this twisted metal wrap that held the rusty double gate together. "My word! Look at this Arnie, a gate. "____ "What a _ How did it?_ I mean what is this place Sam?" Arnie, asked, with a look of surprise upon his well tanned face._________ "Search me, Lets force it open." Sam suggested,but there was a Yell, loud enough for both to recognised it as Old Broad Moors, booming yelling. Both headed back toward where they`d left their shallow draft boat,and quick smart too as the hulk of the Gove came plainly into view.
" Where the ....... heck have you two been. You get a ....... Bob a day for this work,and here you are a slooping off,behind me back. " Broad Moors, cussed out.____ The two passed him by,without a word as he was very aggressive at the best of times,but here and now,very p`d off for a certainty,and upon turning he yelled,"Get into that ....... boat,and get those reeds down river. With the iron rod yanked free of the ground that had held safe the boat they boarded her, she was a long oblong flat bottomed punting type craft,and beside it the Old Mans boat was tied to theirs.
A few minutes passed them by,and Broad Moors suddenly appeared coming along the well trod down pathway. He said nothing. This was highly unexpected, but most certainly true as a rather white faced, ( normal caustic cussing), man approached them in a fast paced flurry of rushing as if something wild was chasing him. Well before reaching them he stopped, clasped his breast with both hands,did half a turn,staggered backwards, and collapsed with a thud as his large over weight frame hit the ground. As the two lads ran to give him aid he was well past caring about the sting of nettles by this time, or why those two had skived off work. They noticed two Silver Shillings, had rolled out from his grubby waist coat pocket.Their wages seemed unimportant at this time to them, and so were replaced safely back into his pocket that also held his sticky hanky rag full of snuff. Such things are at ones own cost if honest as the day is long.
The afternoon quietly bore on as Sam, stayed, and Arnie took boat down river to fetch the Constables in the village. Both feared somehow that they would be hanged, for they lived in the age of the drop. It was nearing nightfall as the Law arrived by the chug, chug,hiss, of a modern steamboat,along with Doctor Fraser Alan Hawthorn, a rather enormous fat man of 35 who cared little for a steam boat trip of this kind. For he was heavily convinced it would capsize, and sink or that hissing boiler thing would indeed explode reducing him in size down to flying tiny bits.
Upon quick examination," Dead as a door nail Sergeant , No signs of fowl play, Probably his heart just gave out."_________" So he naturally snuffed out Doctor?"___ " Yes,he most certainly did Sergeant."
With the white paper document duly signed and witnessed by those gathered around it. The Doctor folded it up neatly lengthwise and stuck it into the black band upon his hat, then after wiping the inside free of his sweat he said," My fee is 2/6 d Sergeant.", as he replaced it back upon his shiny bald head, with the odd looking paper firmly affixed with his price tag upon it._______"Yes sir", replied the tall Policeman who had enormous handle bar whiskers linked into and growing out from his sideburns,a hairstyle oddly well in fashion for those times, as indeed were his 15 inch size boots of regulated hobnailed polished service.
The young constable with fine pocket watch chain was a rather white looking individual clean shaved, with buck teeth , but had a well buffed look and super shine to his uniform of darkest blue. He was holding his oil lamp and was firmly occupied in a struggle as every insect intent on feeding upon him flew toward the light.
The dark of the evening was near pulled in around their ears by this time. It was that instant of time when the biggest dragon fly flew under the back of the constables helmet. Well the fearsome thing sent him crazy like into a yelling frenzy as he was waving his helmet about to evict the wide winged insect. It was then his ears were fully noticed, and everyone including the two young men thought them far to long and sort of soft pale white.
With that activity safely over the huge lump was dragged from the stinging nettles bundled up in boat canvas dragged a bit more and pushed ,shoved and bundled into stowage beneath the wood decking boards where coiled hairy hemp rope lay. The hissing steam whistle sounded it was time of departure.
As the small overloaded Steam Boat, body, fat Doctor,two Policeman and fiddling modern Boatman chugged away down river with a full head of whistling steam,both Sam and Arnie were so relieved as they waved them bye. Little note or favour was returned from those aboard the boat as it disappeared into the mist now rising from the darkness of the river.
The pathway trampled earlier by them held very little interest to them now. Or indeed what lay beyond that rusty old iron gate. They were convinced though that Broad Moors, was terrified to death,but felt better him then them. They decided they best leave well alone.
Leaving the boat loaded high with cut reeds they crossed the dike onto the railway lines,and walked down along them to Helleston Mill,a white-washed place,where hot fresh buns and sweet tea was served them,by the prettiest girl they had ever seen.Their ordeal of that day over,they slept soundly in an outhouse on stacks and sacks of corn.
And so it was that the hard solid sharp flint of the Saxon Church tower, welcomed another beneath its slow turning shadow. It sure was an early time piece.
It was upon an early hot blistering September day the 12th to be exact in the year 1864,when Mr Reginald Barthelemy Grunt, known as Broad Moors,was laid to rest near the red brick and grey flint wall in the church cemetery. The old black moggy lay snoozing a cat nap in the sun upon the wall in its favourite spot,and showed no bother to such proceedings taking place far below its head.
Just beyond that wall nearest to his interred body of everlasting rest was sited a beautiful large Cheery Tree hung heavy with fruit in the old Vicarage garden. Its roots had long since sought out its spread underneath and extended far beyond that wall into that decaying bone yard...
The Vicar, mumbled out his forlorn hope mutterings,and the three people beside the open grave watched as the large wide coffin was lowered by rope, by four men.
Squire Peabody, Sam and Arnie,were the only ones there. As Old Broad Moors, was rather an unliked man by most in the small village of NOTT. He had given over good reasons why they should be that way inclined. He was a nasty piece of work,always the worse for drink,and as mad as a Hatter to boot, hense the local name placed upon his head._ Broad Moors,a place for outright nasty nutters.
With his job done,the Rev Skittle,shut his large Bible of well oiled wavy hand waxed pages, and set off for home with it tucked under his left arm. `Cherry pie and custard for tea,' he thought as he went his usual way passing the graveyard double review of slanted headstones that lined each side of the path.The hole was already being quickly filled in by the four men wanting to get off home,and the sound of small stones hitting the hollow box sounded like a drum roll of hail.
The Squire having given that Godly servant of many mumbles a Gold Sovereign,walked with the two young men down the shingle stone pathway leading to the over hang of the ancient greyish Oak Lych Gate.___"Tell me boys,about the two shilling he owed you two." The Squire asked them,and upon which they quickly related what had happened again. For they were sort of growing tired of telling of it."Well as B M, was in my employ, here are your wages a Shilling, each." "Thank you kindly Sir",they said while knuckling down a salute from their forehead. "Report to my Mr Havourslap, 5 am tomorrow morning sharp." Squire Peabody, ordered directly. "We have work a plenty for the likes of you two." With that said, he tapped the brim of his tall black shinny hat,with his silver knobbed walking cain. Then he walked casually down Church Street whistling a happy tune.
These two young men both widows sons had endured years of being taunted called "Work House Brats! Or Work Ouse!"By others in their age group,but upon replacing two silver coins upon a dead man their lives were for ever changed.Mr Havourslap,was a Master Mason. Very strict in work practice,but there was none fairer and he held no heavy hand of legal yoke upon any man or boy. Mistakes were to be made and owned up to, and a lesson learned by each and everyone of them. That was his code of ethics and he lived by it.
Both Samuel Whittle Downe and Arnald Arnip,were Apprenticed for seven years,and so became highly skilled in the Craft,as Stone Masons & Thatchers, and houses for miles around the small village of Nott, (once called SNOTT ), wore their woven weatherproof hats for years to come,and the walls they built still stand today. It became their custom to conceal in each thatched roof, a secret.
A tobacco tin, a short note and a Silver Shilling.
The note bore a date,their names and simply read: Honest Silver.
The little round tins of Virginia Twist, are often found as dusty roof top are renovated, but few these days understand their true meaning. So I decided to put the record straight.
What of the old rusting double gate?
That i promise is a story for another time.
For certainly there is a mystery beyond it.
That has been already partly written,
and indeed read perhaps by even some of you. BB