The Devil in Clevely (Afternoon of an Autocrat)

The Devil in Clevely (Afternoon of an Autocrat) by Norah Lofts Read Free Book Online

Book: The Devil in Clevely (Afternoon of an Autocrat) by Norah Lofts Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norah Lofts
Tags: Family & Relationships, Fiction - Historical, England/Great Britain, 18th Century
been cut short, whose future was decidedly unpromising, needed all the consolation he could give himself.
    At Bridge Farm, Shipton the Dissenter, just back from the meeting at Nettleton, which had also drawn Amos Greenway away from his duties, was belatedly feeding his pigs. He was nearly two hours late and the pigs believed that death by starvation was imminent; they were squealing so loudly that he could hear nothing else. Mrs Shipton was deafened by the din too as she prepared in the kitchen a hot meal--the Saturday ritual to make up for not cooking on the Sabbath Day.
    The grey horse clattered over the wooden bridge just as Fuller, lantern in hand, was collecting from the common pasture the four bullocks which he meant to stall-feed through the winter. It was late, for he had finished his rack and heaved the turnips into it, and he could have left the beasts out until morning. But the urge to see the job truly completed, to see his bullocks in the straw with their noses in the manger, had been irresistible. As Bobby's hoofs rang hollowly at the bridge Fuller said into a bullock's unresponsive ear, 'There he go, pig-headed old sod! Riding like the Devil: Pity he don't break his bloody neck!'
    The grey horse halted by the gate. Bessie Jarvey, who had just sat down for the first time that day, said, 'You go, Jim?" without any great confidence. However, Jim grunted and rose; not willingly, but with alacrity. Sir Charles did not like to be kept waiting, and Jarvey remembered the time when Bessie had been abed with her fifth and he himself had been in the privy and half a minute's delay had been unavoidable, Sir Charles had said, 'You getting old and slow, Jim? Or is all this night work sapping your strength?'
    So tonight briskly he swung back one half of the heavy gate, briskly he put his hand to his forelock and said, 'Good evening, sir' before, in the darkness, he was aware of the empty saddle. He said later that it made him feel no end of a fool. He also said he noticed how profusely the horse was sweating; a bit more than you'd expect it to even after a sharp gallop, the night being so chilly.
    Bobby, according to custom and drawn by his stable, went smartly through the gate and was out of reach along the avenue before Jarvey had fully taken stock of the situation and realised that he must do something. He must get up to the house and tell Sir Edward Follesmark and the rector; they were there, Bessie had let them in just before she sat down. They'd know what to do. 'Bugger Bobby, going by me like that,' he muttered. 'Now I must tramp it. I could have rode.'
    They found Sir Charles sprawled in the road, halfway between the opening of the Lady's Ride and the gateway of Wood Farm. The way his head lolled indicated that his neck was broken. Fuller was obscurely relieved to think that this must have happened before he confided in the bullock, choosing to forget that all through the late afternoon he had been wishing ill to his landlord. They took Rout's gate from the post and used it as a stretcher upon which to carry the body home. They mentioned Richard in muted voices; they remembered many things; they speculated about the future.
    Only one thing was sure. The old man, now dead, had in his fashion 'kept the faith and finished the course. Nothing would ever be the same again. 

    On the afternoon of the third Saturday of October in the year 1795, but making due allowance for the longitudinal variation in time which those who mastered the subject at school will understand and those who did not be content to ignore, Mrs Richard Shelmadine set out on what she knew would be her last ride through the city of Kilapore.
    The Rajah had sent the message in the morning. It was couched in the usual arrogant terms--His Highness would be prepared to take leave of them on this day, an hour before sunset.
    Richard had described exactly the various horrible things which he was prepared to see happen to the Rajah, and to himself,

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