© Anna Hunt
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It is 1821 and smuggling is rife on the Kent coast. One man is determined, not only to stop this violent trade, but to hang the perpetrators - one in particular. Lucy has her own problems and they get worse when these two men enter her life.
Faefersham Court, Faefersham, Kent, England
“Tuck up your skirt.” Young Douglas Harper twirled his cricket bat in frustration. “Then you can run better.”
In mock horror, Lucy responded, “Certainly not!”
Laughing, Master Douglas, known to her as Dougie, called out, “Bowl the way I showed you.”
Lucy turned and took six paces further back. Then, as her dress only allowed short steps, she pattered towards Dougie standing ready in front of the stumps and hurled the leather ball with all her might. Thwack! The sound of the willow bat striking leather heralded another ball sent for six into the bushes by the lake. The two friends scampered after it
“I’ll wager I can climb the oak faster than you,” said Dougie picking up the cricket ball.
“It’s a wonder I can climb at all in this dress.”
“Give me your hand, and I’ll help you.”
They settled onto their favourite, springy branch. “Hush,” whispered Lucy, “Look.”
Into their view came Sir William Harper, sauntering around his estate on the fine summer’s day. He was being followed by his housekeeper as if she were a dog on a lead. Exasperated, he turned on her. “Mrs Yorton, this is not the time nor place to have this…” he hesitated, “this discussion on Lucy’s future.”
Undaunted, Annie Yorton drew closer. “Airs and graces. What good are they to her? You allow her to wander around the house as if…”
“And why does that trouble you?” Sir William moved closer to the lake and watched a mother duck lead her solitary duckling further away before continuing. “I find you ungrateful, Mrs Yorton. When you announced you were with child, I permitted you to marry my butler who has been devoted to you both. It is most unusual, as you know, for household servants to be allowed to marry, yet in your case…”
Annie Yorton closed in on him. “Oh yes, I know I run this household in tip-top fashion. I know why I’m here.” Her eyes narrowed. “Since your wife died in childbirth,” this oft-repeated phrase always elicited a reaction, “there’s never been a need for you,” her voice gathered pace, “or anyone else for that matter, to have cause for concern about the standards in Faefersham Court.” At this point she made the mistake of pausing for breath.
“I gave you good rooms at the top of the West Wing to call your own. I’ve ensured Lucy has a chance in life not usually given to one of her station. She has been educated alongside my son. What more can you possibly want?”
“Master Douglas is, without a lie, a fine young man, and it is improper for Lucy to be encouraged by you…” Annie Yorton searched for words then, raising her voice, declared, “to think of herself as his equal.”
Striding away towards the bushes alongside the lake, Sir William growled, “Don’t insult my judgment, Mrs Yorton! Lucy has provided Master Douglas with companionship and someone to compete against in his education. Besides, Lucy is just eleven years old…”
Annie’s voice became shrill as she tried to keep up with Sir William. “You should have sent him away to school, not have a governess for them both, then she could have taken her rightful place alongside me in the servants’ quarters.”
“I will hear no more of this. You have a privileged life yet you resent… Bah! You’ve said far too much, away with you.”
“You forget,” Annie knew how to milk a situation, “You forget I know all that goes on here.” She broke away and swept across the lawn towards the side of the manor house.
Sir William’s eyes squinted as he watched her go.
In the high branches of the oak tree, Lucy and Douglas exchanged troubled looks. Lucy’s expression changed to frightened as she reflected on the likely outcome of the overheard exchange. She was the ill-timed daughter of servants. Douglas was the heir to a large estate. “I think we are to be separated, Dougie.”
Wintergate, North East Kent
Thwack! It was not the sound of leather on willow. It was the forcible impact of Annie Yorton’s hand with Lucy’s head.
“You misbegotten slut!” hissed Annie. “Why I have to be burdened with a useless daughter I’ll never know.” Annie followed this with an exaggerated sigh. “Bring in some wood and make up the fire. Then get out.” With her feelings made obvious, she left the room and stomped upstairs.
The next time she does that, I’ll hit her back. Lucy had thought this before but she wasn’t one for screaming, shouting, spitting and hitting. As soon as she could afford a decent dress, she’d go into Merrygate in search of a post, perhaps in one of the new hotels, somewhere she could live in.
Having stacked the wood in the hearth, Lucy grabbed her shabby shawl and headed towards the sea. It was a cold, clear Christmas Day, and she curled up in her favourite place.
It had been a wonderful world; her world. Lost now, maybe forever. But no one could take away her memories. Hidden from view, high on a ledge of scrubby bushes jutting from the cliffs, she could hold these memories in her mind, in her heart, where no one knew they existed. They warmed her when nothing else could. Whenever possible she would go back in time to watch the characters as if they were in a play. Ignoring the man searching for mussels at the foot of the cliffs, she drew her knees to her chin, tucked her toes under her outgrown dress, snuggled into her thin woollen shawl, and remembered.
The stimulating lessons with Dougie’s governess, the freedom of the gardens and, most of all, that last Summer Ball, these were memories that would live on regardless of what else happened. She recalled her loving father, in stentorian tones, announcing guests resplendent in satins and silks. Then her father, bidden by Sir William, betrayed her presence in the gallery. “Sir William Harper welcomes his son, Master Douglas Harper and his young companion, Miss Lucy Yorton, both hiding behind the long-case clock.” He had held his right hand high and, taking her cue from Dougie, she came out to the top of the long winding staircase. With all the grace she could muster, she overcame her embarrassment and laid her hand on the gold and white balustrade garlanded with greenery and marigolds. Her eyes, her mind, her heart took in the glorious sight below. She curtseyed as Dougie bowed low. How grand her father looked in the Harper livery. And it was so kind of Sir William to invite them to spend a few moments with the delighted guests. She had willed the whispering silks to haunt her: one day she would dress like that.
That day had not come. The next morning, pulled from her roots like a weed, her mother had dragged her to the crossroads and they had taken the coach to Wintergate with nothing but a bundle of belongings between them.
The spell was broken and she shivered. She must tuck away her memories of her father, Dougie, and all she’d held dear. The tiny workman’s cottage at the end of a shabby terrace was home now. Whatever made her mother leave such a comfortable position? It was true she’d made the cottage cosy. True too that her mother no longer had to work, not since Lucy had found work seven long years ago.
A metallic scraping noise jarred Lucy’s thoughts back to the bleak scene before her. What was that mussel man doing? Lying flat, she edged herself to where she could peek over to the rocks below. He was digging far too deep; mussels didn’t hide way down in the sand. He was also in the one place which was hidden from the sight of the revenue officers at Watch House. He wasn’t alone either. A rough-looking seaman was filling in the hole now as deep as a grave. She watched as, without a word, they covered the sand with huge chalk rocks and, with a flourish, they flung some seaweed on the top. They had buried something. Or, God forbid, someone?
“Give us yer hand, Tynton, and swear an oath on your son’s life.”
Sydney Tynton spat on his hand, held it out, and muttered something inaudible to Lucy. She did, however, catch his last few words. “You now owe me.”
“You just let me know and we’ll be there, guns ablazing.”
Lucy withdrew as quietly as she could. She wished she’d never heard. Sydney Tynton was the disagreeable master of the farm where she worked.
She hadn’t time to wait. The pale, winter sun was setting sending a shimmer of sparkles, like scattered diamonds, over the surface of the sea. She must hurry home, making sure the volatile farmer Tynton would never know what she had seen.
“You useless creature! Christmas is well over now. You tell me you can only work a half-day because it’s raining!” Annie Yorton would win any competition for the best scoff. “Rain never hurt anyone.” She stood arms akimbo in the door of her cottage. “Losing pay does, and it has been happening all too often. You’re not coming in here with empty hands. Make yourself useful and get some driftwood.” She slammed the door.
Lucy peeped through the rain-lashed latticed window – a good fire burned in the grate and the hearth was stacked with logs. There was no point in arguing. Anyway the rain must ease soon and she was already wet through so she collected the big log basket from the back door of the cottage, and carried it towards the stream which had carved a useful path to the beach. The north-facing shore had fine sands and on either side of the crescent bay were white chalk cliffs rose to more than thirty feet. They gave way in the centre to a narrow strip of high sandy banks which allowed a driven donkey or pony to toil upwards to the village.
Reaching the beach, Lucy took stock. The tide was out revealing the fallen chalk rocks from the high cliff faces. The fishermen, who beached their little boats here, had to be skilled seamen to avoid the shallow waters and the rocks. Lucy glanced at the Custom House. Called Watch House, it sat high on the cliff, a cold, grey stone fortress on the east side of the bay. Sometimes she would keep watch from her sanctuary on the other side of the bay but there was very little action of consequence. Smugglers were not fools, they’d not use a place overlooked by the revenue men. The wind was cold and the sky heavy with grey clouds. She must hurry or face a further downpour. Strewn along the tideline, driftwood told of the latest wrecked boats in the recent storm; a gift tossed up on the beach and left by the receding waves. If the weather were better, everyone would be combing the beach for wood and hoping for more than that too, though the revenue men usually got there first. Once, bottles of wine rolled in and beached all around the bay; most smashed against the rocks.
It only took a few minutes to collect as much as she could carry but much longer to trudge back home. The cottage she lived in was called China Cottage, and each of the four cottages in the terrace had names reflecting the destinations of the ships that set sail regularly from the Thames’ estuary. She stopped to leave a little of her load in old Bodger’s back yard at the other end of the terrace. His was called India Cottage. Poor old Bodger, deaf and mute; he had many reasons to feel sorry for himself but he never did.
Before dawn the following morning, Lucy cleaned the grate, swept the hearth and laid and lit a fire. She wiped the sooty bottom of the kettle before filling it from the churn outside. Bodger, old as he was, would fill their churn from the well and bring it on his little cart and her mother would give him a farthing.
When the water in the kettle was warm, she added it to some milk from the pail in the cold scullery. She drank a little and dunked some stale bread in her cup. The best part about working on a farm was that she knew the milk had not been tampered with. Some people had to put up with all sorts of dubious additions by unscrupulous sellers. This milk was pure and creamy and she was allowed a small pail a week. With the addition of a little water, she could make it last the week in winter. The birds heralding the advancing dawn interrupted her thoughts. Now there was only time to take her mother, still in bed, a cup of warm milk before leaving.
Lucy hastened over the crossroads, passed the gatehouse and then swiftly ran along the pathway to Jerusalem Farm. The name was “a jest” said the farmer, Sydney Tynton, then he’d follow this with the explanation that “the farm down the road be called Bethlehem but there ain’t no Christ ’ere in Jerusalem ’cos that’s where he was got rid of!” The only person who appreciated this attempt at jollity was farmer Tynton himself. He would guffaw, strut and spit. Then Mrs Tynton would thrash him out of the kitchen with her broom shouting “Don’t you spit in ’ere.” Then he’d raise his hand and she’d raise her broom again shouting, “Touch me and I’ll make sure Daniel hears of it.” It would be funny if Mr Tynton didn’t always take his annoyance out on his labourers, who were becoming fewer each year.
“I s’pose you’re ’ere early ’oping for a bit o’ porridge.” Sydney Tynton was not known for his generosity. He was known for slurring his words though.
“Come on in, Lucy. Get yourself some porridge from the pot, then you can give me a hand with the vegetables for this evening.” Mrs Tynton pulled Lucy past her husband who was blocking the doorway to their farmhouse and addressed him firmly, “She’ll be out to give you a hand when I’ve finished with her. And not before!”
Sydney Tynton had to have the last word. “You make sure she is. We don’t pay ’er to be coddled all day.” He slammed the door behind him, tripped over nothing very much, probably his own feet, and swore profusely.
The reason for Mrs Tynton’s unusually confident refusal to be intimidated stood by the farmhouse stove, legs astride, hands behind his back and keeping an amused eye on his parents. Alongside him lay a black and white, long-haired dog which regarded Lucy with interest.
Lucy had not spoken to Daniel for some years, maybe three or four, and even before that, their paths had rarely crossed. But here stood Daniel, his eyes taking her in, stripping her of her pitiful clothes and betraying the merest hint of a smile. Lucy blushed. Drat. If only she’d known he was to be home.
The blush grew. “Hello Da… Mr Tynton.”
Daniel’s smile grew too. There was a controlled silence before he replied in his relaxed country burr. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Lucy’s face was still as red as a ripe apple. He’d kissed her once when she was just thirteen and he was seventeen. The look on his face told her he’d not forgotten his game of stealth as he’d wrapped his arms around her waist, spun her round and stolen a kiss. Six years had passed and she’d never been kissed since, though some had tried. She attempted to think of an answer that wouldn’t give away her racing thoughts, but couldn’t.
Mrs Tynton was staring at them both. “Get your porridge, Lucy, and hurry up about it.” She ambled off towards the scullery.
To get to the porridge on the stove, Lucy had to pass Daniel and the dog and neither moved. Rather than squeeze between him on her left and the kitchen table, she walked around the other side, collecting a bowl as she went. Still Daniel did not make way for her. “I would be obliged, Mr Tynton, if you would move just enough for me to reach the pot.”
“Say that again and I’ll move.”
Lucy raised her eyes to meet his sparkling blue ones. He was jesting. “Why?”
“I like to hear you talk.”
“Why?” Lucy wondered if it was wise to hold her ground when Daniel was now no longer a boy.
“It’s good to see you’ve still a lot of fight in you, Lucy. I’ve been hearing a few tales.” He nodded his head in the direction of the scullery. “But I can hold out longer and I’ll not move until you say that again for me.”
“Why?” The word had come out quicker than she’d intended. Should she play these games with someone who held her livelihood in his hands?
Daniel took hold of her frozen hand. Lucy withdrew it and immediately regretted her instinctive reaction. His eyes had not left her since she’d walked through the door and her nerve was failing. “You don’t talk like the rest of us round here. I’ve missed your voice and, like me Ma says, you sound like you’re from the gentry.”
He meant it. Lucy could see that gentle look now appearing in his eyes, the one she took to bed with her and to her sanctuary on the cliffs. The look which warmed her and fought to stay in her fading stock of cherished memories. Playfully, Lucy dropped him a curtsey and said, “Kind sir, I would be obliged if you would move just enough for me to reach the pot.”
“Gentle lady, you shall have your wish,” Daniel said bowing low with a flourish of his hand and a courteous smile. He turned to the dog lying by his right foot. “Josh, this lady is a friend,” he placed his right hand on his left shoulder. Josh stood, plodded slowly towards Lucy, sat down again and held up a paw. Entranced, Lucy took his paw and shook it gently. “She wishes us to move. Would you be so kind as to shift a bit for her?” He clicked his fingers and Josh followed Daniel who moved just enough to give access to the steaming pot on the stove, leaving him close enough to ensure she brushed against him. He pointed at the floor and Josh lay down again.
Lucy quickly filled her bowl, mindful of Mrs Tynton’s admonishment, and sat at the kitchen table. Had she to eat the oatmeal porridge with Daniel’s eyes on her all the time? She looked up at him, her eyes flicking around him rather than on him.
Daniel interpreted correctly, picked up a bowl, filled it with some porridge, and placed it beside her. “I’ll get some more milk.”
Lucy, now half way through her thick porridge with just a trickle of milk, stopped eating. The last time she’d had porridge with lots of creamy milk was at… she could not bear to finish the thought. She’d had sugar too.
Daniel returned with a bowl of sugar and a jug of milk. “A second helping never does me any harm,” he said.
“Lucy! You finished yet?” Mrs Tynton did not sound pleased.
“No, she’s not, Ma. I’ll send her out to you when she has.”
“Thank you, Mr Tynton,” Lucy whispered.
“Daniel, Lucy. Call me Daniel, like you always did. And say it often – I like to hear it like you say it.” He passed her the sugar and the milk. “Have you had porridge like this before?”
“A long time ago, Daniel.”
“You don’t say much about where you came from, do you?”
The colour rose in Lucy’s cheeks: her mother had forbidden her to speak of her time at Faefersham Court and all that happened there. She was to tell people no more than her mother was a widow. A respectable widow. Perhaps her mother was right. It was unwise to say too much to the Tynton family, they were not known to be God-fearing, and she had to work twice as hard as some of the other workers to be sure of being employed through good times and bad.
“It’s made a wonderful start to the day, Daniel. Thank you.” Lucy stood up and began to take her bowl to the scullery.
“I’ll be gone in a day or two,” he paused until she turned around, “but I’ll be back.”
The emphasis was definitely on the latter part of the sentence and it recalled to Lucy’s mind some of the things that had been said about Daniel in the last few years. She knew he could have the pick of the village girls, both here and over by Bethlehem Farm where he now lived with his uncle. It was said that he was never seen with the same girl twice. She must be sure to keep this in mind.
Mrs Tynton gave Lucy a scathing look as she entered the scullery. “It won’t do you no good to make eyes at my Dan. He’s promised to another.”
What Lucy replied, though true, bore no relation to what she felt. “It’s just banter, Mrs Tynton, I meant no harm. I was surprised to see him, that’s all.” She hurriedly started washing the pots and pans.
Mrs Tynton was not fooled. “It’s best you don’t get fond of him, Lucy. I know you were friends when you first arrived in the village and I’m glad, that I am, ’cos he brought you here. You’re a reliable worker but the good of my son, my only son, comes first. Make sure you know that and all will be well between us.”
“Thank you, Mrs Tynton. I’ll be careful.”
“Aye, you’ll need to be with him around.”
Astonished, Lucy stared at Daniel’s mother. Had she heard correctly?
Mrs Tynton smiled. “Aye, you heard right. I’m just warning you, friendly like, our Dan’s a catch and he enjoys toying with the bait, nibbling it and swimming away.” She went back into the kitchen but turned as she stood in the doorway and said loudly, “And remember this well, he’s promised to another.”
Daniel passed his mother, gave her a hug, and said, “Thanks, Ma. That’s enough of that.” He continued into the scullery where he filled a bowl with water before taking it back to Josh.
Lucy, though amused by Daniel’s response, nodded solemnly to Mrs Tynton: she understood. She resumed washing the pots and pans. Mrs Tynton brought in a kettle of hot water and a carving knife with notches in the handle. Mr Tynton used to jest with his wife saying there was a notch for every chicken he’d killed. She’d answer back saying she’d never seen him kill a chicken, she always had to do it, and he’d throw his head back and roar laughing. Lucy wondered if she and Mrs Tynton were the only ones who didn’t like his jests, for some of the farm hands would chuckle. Probably just being polite to the master.
“Mind your hands, Lucy, Mr Tynton keeps this carving knife well sharpened. I’m off to the barn. When you’ve finished here, scrubbed the table and all that, you’d best hurry on down to the bottom field. Mr Tynton’s digging out the ditches again and he’ll be needing all the help he can get. This rain keeps on pouring down.”
Lucy groaned inwardly. Working anywhere near Mr Tynton was punishment enough but carting the sodden earth away, taking it further into the fields was hard for men, and it would be nigh on impossible for her on this soggy ground. Why was she being sent to do this? The answer, of course, was likely to be that it was as far away from Daniel as possible.
“Nellie, take Nellie,” called out Daniel.
“Of course she’ll take Nellie, Ned too. Not everyone round here’s soft in the head, Dan.”
“Yeah, Ma. I’m not so sure of him out there though. And he’s got a sore head this morning – just when he’s needed tonight.”
Mrs Tynton marched over to her son wagging her finger and, lowering her voice, said. “Mind what you say. She can hear you.”
“I’m not saying anything Lucy won’t already know. He’s drunk half the time and gambling the rest of it.”
Lucy heard, and Lucy knew. But what did he mean about tonight? Was there gambling going on?
Mrs Tynton whispered, “Dan, don’t talk like that about your father. It’s not right. It isn’t easy trying to make a living on ten acres.”
“I know, and he’s told me a hundred times that I’ve got it easy on uncle’s forty.” Daniel was not long deflected from his track and said, “And you’ve to make sure there’s someone down there to do the lifting of the pails into the panniers.”
“Yes, Dan,” Mrs Tynton sighed in an exaggerated fashion, “Old Ben’s going down.” Then Lucy heard the front door shut. Just Daniel and her now.
She picked up the carving knife and held it by its wooden handle and felt the blade – thin and sharp – it would carve through anything. She dunked it in the water and wiped it carefully. It wasn’t until she had put it away safely that her thoughts returned to Daniel, though these were interrupted by a loud knock on the back door. She opened the door. A brawny man was framed by the doorway with Ben, an older, jolly farmhand, famed for his tales, hiding behind him. She backed away from the big man’s leer.
“You’re a lass I wouldn’t mind taking a tumble with. When you gonna give in, eh?” He reached out to grab Lucy then seemed to back away. “Glad to see you’re here, Dan. Ready for the dark?”
Lucy turned to see Daniel directly behind her. His eyes bored into the burly man’s as he abruptly said, “I’ll be out. Wait around by the front.”
Although a little startled, Lucy’s curiosity overcame her and she quietly followed Daniel through to the kitchen. The next noises she heard were a smack and a thump. She peered out of the window. The big man was being held by his collar with Daniel glaring into his face. “I’ve told you before: not her. Got it?”
Lucy drew away from the window and silently thanked Daniel – if only he were here all the time. She hurriedly returned to her duties and opened the door of the stove, threw another couple of logs into the fire, and put the filled kettle on the top of the stove. That was evidence, if she needed it, that she had needed to go into the kitchen. Next she brought in the clean dishes and took them over to the cupboard by the front door.
“She’ll be coming in and we’ll be there to welcome her.” It was the voice of the brawny man. Lucy doubted he could whisper if his life depended on it.
Then Daniel said firmly, “You do your part and I’ll back up my father, if necessary.”
Lucy didn’t catch anything more. Daniel’s hand was on the latch. Lucy fled to the scullery.
How mysterious. Who was this “she”?
Her duties at the farm finished, Lucy ran home. If she was quick enough she would be able to go to the morning service at the church. She dashed in to the cottage, leapt up the stairs and changed into her better clothes before returning to the front door to bang the mud off her boots.
“I can no longer wear this old blue spencer, mother.” Lucy could never bring herself to use the familiar “ma” or “mama”; her mother was her biological mother and little else.
“If you had to eat slugs for breakfast, you wouldn’t have much else in life to complain about, you ungrateful girl.” Annie Yorton looked disdainfully at her nineteen-year-old daughter who was trying, with little success, to button up the little jacket she’d had since she was fourteen.
“I can no longer wear this old blue spencer, mother.” Lucy could never bring herself to use the familiar “Ma” or “mama”, her mother was her biological mother and little else. “I shall be going to the market next week and I’ll buy a warm cloak.”
“You’ll do no such thing!” Mrs Yorton pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes and stared at Lucy. “Have you been keeping money back?”
“Not yet, but I intend to.” Occasionally Mrs Tynton would give her an extra few pennies, sometimes as much as sixpence for working until a job was finished and Lucy was determined her mother would never again get her hands on this. By the summer she could have enough for a dress as well as a cloak.
“And how do you expect me to clothe myself if you are wasting all the money? Don’t think I don’t know you get fed at the farm whereas I have no such luxury. What am I supposed to eat?”
The word “slugs” came to mind but Lucy knew there was little point in arguing or it would end in her mother’s threats to throw herself off the cliff.
The church bells stopped ringing. The service would be starting very soon and they both hurried to the nearby church. Mrs Yorton wrapped her velvet-trimmed cloak around her tightly, put on her smile, and greeted a lady alighting from a carriage.
“Good morning, Mrs Thorsen.”
“Good morning,” responded the lady, with little warmth in her voice.
Lucy, ignored, observed the village spinsters and widows clustering around her mother, all twittering like starlings roosting in the autumn.
“Oh, Mrs Yorton, how do you know that fine lady?”
Mrs Yorton kept her secrets well, so long as she kept her mouth shut. Lucy found it easy to deduce how her mother “knew” Mrs Thorsen, for there was Lieutenant Karl Thorsen her son, the Riding Officer, standing by the carriage watching. He was good at watching. He took his mother’s arm and guided her through the ladies towards Lucy.
“Good morning, Miss Yorton.” He tipped his hat. “You are still working at the Tynton’s farm, is that not so?”
Lucy had known of Lieutenant Thorsen for some while. He was certainly a man of consequence, evidenced by his dress. It was unusual for such a man to acknowledge her formally. “Good morning, Lieutenant Thorsen.” Lucy decided to give him the smallest of smiles as she lowered her eyes and bobbed in acknowledgement. She liked his sandy hair with the curls around his forehead but she was not impressed in any other way. He had lately taken to spending time with his widowed mother and now he was bringing her to the church at Wintergate. Surely it would be easier to take her to the church closest to their manor house.
“I’ll speak to you after the service,” he said.
Clearly her avoidance of the question was noticed. He was a gentleman, he’d been a naval Lieutenant, the son of a naval Captain, direct in his speech, and as cold as the arctic wind that blew onshore in winter.
Mrs Yorton bustled towards them. “Lucy, you’re making me late. Go in at once.” Her planned charm assault on the young Lieutenant failed due to his hasty entrance to the church alongside his mother.
Mrs Yorton was not the only one to resent the smart Lieutenant speaking with Lucy.
“Fancy yourself, don’t you?” The cocky face of one of the village girls was thrust in front of Lucy and soon joined by another. “You need takin’ down a peg or two.”
The second one wanted to add her own threat. “Yeah, watch your back.”
Lucy was used to being ridiculed and, as she had no inclination to make friends with them, she ignored them.
Lieutenant Thorsen sat in a reserved pew at the front. Mrs Yorton and Lucy were not quite at the back. This gave her the opportunity to observe Lieutenant Thorsen. He was courteous to those around him, attentive to his mother and clearly confident. Yet he had rattled her. Something didn’t seem quite right. A man with his background usually did not work, certainly not hunting smugglers as a Riding Officer. She’d noticed him watching her for some weeks now. She wished he wouldn’t, it made her feel so uncomfortable.
She enthusiastically sang the first hymn though her mother told her to hush as her voice spoilt the sound of the choir in the gallery. As with scoffing, Annie Yorton could hurl or whisper insults worthy of a medal: members of the small choir were there by dint of not having to work every day like everybody else.
The parson had recently returned to his home parish from Torwell Bridge and brought a young wife with him. He had shown concern for both Lucy and her mother, and was most respectful to all. He was well regarded and not at all the usual sort of parson. He was jolly and kindly, and a little deaf in one ear and short-sighted too which gave him a look of caring as he inclined his head towards his parishioners as they spoke. Her thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of being watched. Lucy knew she had no unlawful habits or connections so why, at every opportunity, did Lieutenant Thorsen stare so? He should know better.
Her attention refocused on the service once Mr Raffles, Bible in hand, commenced his sermon. Lucy could not help but smile for, before he took his place in the pulpit, he always appeared to distrust it, as if it would roll away. Or perhaps he thought it would collapse under his weight. He was very large “big and beautifully made” he would sometimes say with an endearing smile.
“The text for today is taken from the gospel of Saint Luke, chapter eleven. The disciples of Jesus have asked him to teach them to pray. Our Lord taught them a simple prayer for he knows how we always forget what we ought to remember.” He paused and there was the merest hint of a chuckle from the congregation. “He began with ‘Our Father’.” Parson Raffles left his distrusted pulpit and stood at the front of the central aisle. Raising his voice, he said, “Father! Yes, we are to call the creator of all ‘Father’. This makes us all the children of God.” He paused to allow this concept to be considered. “You may have a kind and good earthly father, or he may be a rogue with little care or concern for you, or you may no longer have a father on earth. But we all, yes all, have a heavenly father. A father who knows, not just more than us, but everything there is to know.”
It was impossible for Lucy’s mind to wander for it was as if God the Father, in the absence of her own, was speaking to her directly.
Unfettered by the pulpit, the parson wandered from his chosen spot at the head of the central aisle most of the time. He was also given to attempts at illustrating his points by flinging his arms wide and high. “Many a child has lost his father in the war, or at sea, but, fear not, dear child, you have God the Father to whom you can turn. Make sure you talk to him.” Then he whispered, as if to conceal his words from the earthly fathers, “Fathers don’t like being ignored.”
From where Lucy sat, she could see Lieutenant Thorsen in rapt attention until the parson bellowed, “At the end of the prayer which Jesus taught us, He returns immediately to emphasize that “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ Jesus makes clear that God forgives our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The Lieutenant now appeared to be studying the stone floor. Lucy tried not to wonder what sins he needed forgiven. She must consider her own soul, not his. Then she found she could not let go of the fleeting thought that perhaps the Lieutenant was unable to forgive someone else.
As they stood for the last hymn, Lucy noticed him glance over his shoulder again. What did she know of him? He was in charge of the Riding Officers and took his duties very seriously. He had been in the service for only a short while but had established new operational methods along this part of the coast. He had been so successful that he was much respected amongst the preventive services. She’d heard that, instead of lone Riding Officers attempting to patrol single-handedly, he’d set up bases at strategic points and the Riding Officers became part of the larger preventive operation. He commanded respect amongst those who attempted to follow the law. She knew little more and certainly, thus far, had had no reason to concern herself with him.
After the service, Annie Yorton animatedly talked to anyone who would listen while Lucy was expected to wait quietly by the gate.
“You look as though you need new clothes.” Lieutenant Karl Thorsen whispered in Lucy’s ear and indicated with a nod that her spencer was undone.
Embarrassed both by what he said and how he said it, Lucy retorted, “I am aware of that, Lieutenant Thorsen.” She gave no explanation – why should she?
“You are working all week. Don’t they pay you enough?”
Oh, so he was trying to put Daniel and his family down. “They pay me quite well.”
“Then why can’t you purchase something that fits? That patched grey dress is too short, your ankles are on show, and it’s too tight and your boots won’t last much longer.”
“I mistook you for a gentleman, Lieutenant.” Lucy walked away yet added, “Our household expenses are no concern of yours.”
The Lieutenant followed. “Revenue is my concern.”
Lucy could see little connection between her lack of good clothing and his dutiful collection of rightful revenue. She took a few steps further away.
“How money is obtained and how it is spent is a subject pertaining to my duties.” Karl Thorsen pursued her. “It’s not easy to hide things from me. It’s my sworn duty to know what’s going on, even that which is hidden. Your mother’s clothing and yours are too dissimilar to ease my mind on matters which are in my charge.”
“Good heavens, Lieutenant Thorsen, are you saying my mother is obtaining money by unlawful means?”
“I’ll speak to your mother.”
“No, please don’t, Lieutenant.” Lucy’s voice showed her loss of composure. “I will be blamed for something I have said to you. See, she is watching us.”
Lieutenant Thorsen turned, nodded towards Annie Yorton, then strode away towards the parson.