Mr Eyre stood up and ran a hand through his hair causing it to stick up wildly. He took one last look at Martha’s prone figure and ran out into the yard. He gazed about him. Issell was his best hope, but how long would it take him to return to the village, seek her out and bring her back to the Manor House?
Mr Eyre dithered, pacing about the small yard in front of the hay barn. He glanced up towards the woods to where the others had run after their escape, pursued by Childecott’s enforcers. Had they got away? Had Charlie and Dary got to the horses? Might he use one to carry Martha to the village? He shook his head. No, he should just go to the Manor House and try asking at the servants’ entrance. He’d detected more than one sympathetic look as he and his fellow prisoners had been herded through the back kitchen into Childecott’s grand wood-panelled hall the previous day.
Glancing briefly over at the barn in which Smiler, he assumed, was still trapped, he set off at a jog across to the Manor House. As he reached the building he ducked down to avoid being seen from the front windows. Then, rounding the corner by the servants’ entrance, he almost ran straight into Wilthrop, Childecott’s cousin, the man whom Childecott had instructed to preside over their impending trial. Mr Eyre leapt back, hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. An equally alarmed Wilthrop staggered slightly before righting himself, putting his hand out to the wall of the house for support.
Before Wilthrop could speak, Mr Eyre bowed his head. “Sir, I beg of you, I need your help!”
Wilthrop frowned, putting his head on one side. “Aren’t you one of my cousin’s unfortunate prisoners? What are you doing running about out here?”
“Please listen,” Mr Eyre clasped his hands together. “The woman who was with us, she’s collapsed. Please, she needs help.”
Wilthrop shook his head.
“Please, sir,” Mr Eyre implored.
“I don’t understand. You were all locked in the barn.”
“That’s right,” Mr Eyre said trying to curb his impatience. “But we escaped. Your cousin’s men are chasing after the others.” He gestured towards the woods. “Martha and I didn’t go with them, we went to hide in the hay barn, but then she collapsed. Please, won’t you help me?” Mr Eyre pleaded. “She’s fainted or something. She’s unconscious.”
“Escaped eh? From the Lord of the Manor?’ Wilthrop smiled. “Oh dear, that will never do.” The small grey-looking man straightened himself from his cowed stance and shook his head. “Not at all.”
Mr Eyre tensed. He clenched his fists, ready to knock the man down.
Wilthrop chuckled quietly. Mr Eyre was about to take a swing at him. Wilthrop put up his hand. “You mistake me, sir. I’d be delighted to help you.”
Mr Eyre let out a huge sigh of relief. “I thought…”
Wilthrop interrupted. “You said the woman was in the hay barn?”
Mr Eyre nodded.
“Do you think you could bring her over to the house? We can put her in my quarters and then see what we can do,” Wilthrop regarded Mr Eyre. “Well, go on man. Hurry up!”
Mr Eyre rushed back to the hay barn. Martha was still unconscious. He scooped her up as gently as he could, then hurried back across the yard, his head darting left and right, checking the route was clear. Wilthrop was waiting for him beyond the servant’s entrance, the door to which was thankfully shut. He beckoned Mr Eyre to hurry then ushered him through another door into the Manor House.
Wilthrop led Mr Eyre along a dim corridor, up a short flight of steps, then into a sparsely furnish sitting room. There was a small bed chamber accessed through a curtained doorway at the end of the room. Wilthrop drew back the curtain indicated the bed. Mr Eyre, whose arms were beginning to tire, entered and gratefully laid his burden down. As he did so, Martha murmured something, her eyelids fluttered for a moment and then closed again.
Wilthrop held out his hand. “The name’s Wilthrop, I remember you. You are Mr Eyre, are you not?”
Mr Eyre took the Wilthrop’s extended hand and shook it warmly. “That’s right, Mr Wilthrop. I’m just surprised that you’re helping us.”
“After that performance from my cousin, yesterday?” Wilthrop shook his head. “It’s a sorry business, but I am forced by circumstances to attend my cousin’s bidding. I do not relish it, I can assure you. I had been trying to devise a way to circumvent his so-called trial. But if you’ve all escaped, maybe there will be no trial,” he said, eyes brightening with pleasure.
Mr Eyre nodded, then turned back to the bed and gently lifted Martha’s hand. He felt for her pulse; it was still weak, but her breathing seemed easier. He looked over at Wilthrop who was leaning on the side of the archway watching. “I just hope the others have got clear and Childecott doesn’t get wind of us.”
“You’re as safe here as anywhere,” replied Wilthrop, “My cousin does not deign to visit my quarters. If he wants me I am summoned. Usually by that brute, Smiler.”
Martha shifted on the bed. “Andrew? Is that you?” she whispered, opening her eyes.
“Martha,” Mr Eyre’s face lit up. “Welcome back.”
Martha stared around from where she lay on the bed. “Where are we?” She saw Wilthrop standing in the doorway. “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
“Martha, you collapsed or fainted or something,” explained Mr Eyre. “We’re in Mr Wilthrop’s quarters at the Manor House.”
Martha raised herself on one elbow, looking anxiously at Wilthrop. “I thought he was the one who was going to…”
Wilthrop hurried over to the bedside. “Calm yourself, dear lady. You can regard me as a friend.” He bent towards Martha. “Are you sure you are quite well, though, my dear? I can get someone…”
Martha waved his concern away. She sat up. Colour was returning to Martha’s cheeks, and to Mr Eyre’s relief, she was looking much more like her old self. “Just a little too much excitement,” she said fanning herself with her hand. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Let me bring you something from the kitchen,” said Wilthrop, stepping though the doorway.
“Might the servants not speak out if they discover you have visitors?” asked Mr Eyre nervously.
“To be truthful, there’s hardly any one of them in the house who would go out of their way to help their master. Like me, they are all in his thrall in some way.”
Martha nodded. “It’s true. Lord Childecott has made sure he has some threat or other hanging over the villagers who work here.”
“And his enforcers?”
“None of them’s from round here, Andrew,” Martha replied shaking her head. “The new Lord of the Manor brought them with him when he took over.” She looked up at Wilthrop and smiled. “I’d be delighted to take a little bread and ale if you have…”
“It is my pleasure to assist,” said Wilthrop bowing his head, and with a new spring in his step he hurried away.
A few minutes later Wilthrop returned with a serving girl carrying a large tray covered with a muslin cloth. She set it down on the wooden table by the window, bobbed a curtsy to Wilthrop and left the room seemingly without even noticing the occupants of the chamber beyond the spartan sitting room.
“Come,” Wilthrop urged, pulling back the cloth revealing a large hunk of bread, some cheese, a jug of ale and three heavy-looking glasses. Mr Eyre and Martha glanced at each other, then hastened to the table. Wilthrop gestured to the food. “Eat, my guests, please. Then, Mr Eyre, you can tell me all about this fascinating object.” Winthrop held up the Box Brownie.
Back in the village, Issell and Bethany were in the tavern. Issell had come to attend to John Moore. She was pleased to discover that he was considerably improved. Although his left leg was far from healed, Issell judged that if the wound was kept clean it would not turn bad. She finished binding the knee tightly. “There now, John,” she said. “You’ll still need to rest, but with a stout stick you will be able to get about.”
Dary came over from the bar counter and crouched down. “Shall we get you up now John? It doesn’t do to have customers sprawled all over the floor before opening time,” he grinned.
Bethany was playing with Astra, twirling a piece of straw just out of the little cat’s reach as Astra chased after it, again and again, back and forward, and round and round. There seemed no end to their energy.
“You make me fair dizzy dancing about like that,” Dary said as he glanced over to Bethany and the prancing kitten, while easing John into a sitting position. “Ready?” asked Daryl. John nodded, then Dary carefully hoisted the injured man to his feet. “We’ll soon have you dancing too, eh John?”
Issell shook her head. “You go easy, John Moore. “Too much movement will not help your knee heal,’ she said sternly.
Dary helped John to a chair at the big wooden table. “Can I offer you all some stew. I cooked up a big potful yesterday after closing. I just couldn’t settle what with…”
He was interrupted by someone banging on the cellar door. Dary hurried through to the back. The hammering continued. Daryl unlatched the door and pulled it open cautiously. Dary recognised one of the stable boys from the Manor House.
“Hurry up. Let me in!” The boy shot a look up and down the lane, as if he was being pursued. Dary flung open the door and the boy rushed in, looking over his shoulder as he did. Dary shut the door behind him and bolted it. Issell’s anxious face appeared around the cellar door.
“Come on in,” Dary urged the boy. He looked at Issell. “He’s from Childecott’s stables, works with old Seth, don’t you lad?”
The boy nodded. “It was Seth who sent me to warn you, Dary,” the boy said breathlessly. “Your dad and the other prisoners escaped,” the boy panted. ” They got away with two of the horses… Lord Childecott… he’s sending his men into the village…you don’t want to be here when they come, Dary.”
©2019 Chris Hall
So, what do you think of my first full-length children’s story as it progresses? You’ll find the earlier chapters here. I’d love to hear what you think of it!