Courtesy of Berkeley Castle
In the drawing room, the medley of voices swelled and ebbed like a flight of drones, interspersed with bellows of laughter and strident opinion.
“Tis plain as the nose on your face, she’s no upper customer,” declared John Jenkins, a yeoman farmer.
“Be that as it may,” Mrs Purnell told him, “twould be a mistake to underrate her. Miss Tudor’s no frivolous girl. James Simmonds says she pays metic’lous heed to the day books and wants only a quizzin’-glass for finer detail!”
“I’ve heard,” offered Joseph Cullimore, freeholder of the parish, “that Bloxsome comes, hat in hand, when she summons him for advice about Lord Berkeley’s affairs.”
“The attorney at Dursley? Well, he’s not one to be trifled with,” averred Mrs Purnell.
“Tan’t nat’rel,” opined William Vizard, tenant farmer. His slack jaw and open stare gave him an appearance of permanent incredulity. “A female’s place is by the range, else diggin’ tatties.”
“Plucking fowl and skinning hares,” agreed Sam Pye, cramming his mouth with pastry.
“Swapping receipts for punch like this!” concurred John Jenkins. “Though a tad more brandy wouldn’t go amiss!”
“You can all barrack,” said Mrs Purnell, “but Berkeley’s a lazy fellow with no head for the debit columns. He’s let things slide. He may be well-breeched, but his estates will be done up in no time for want of a firm hand. His only enthusiasm’s getting his blood up in the sports field!”
“Beggin’ your pardon, Mrs Purnell,” said Joseph Cullimore politely, “but you must own it topsy-turvy. Adam’s rib was made for a helpmeet.”
“For breedin’ stock,” affirmed Pye.
“Well, gentlemen,” huffed the good lady, “I can tell you Miss Tudor has not neglected her duties in that department. There’s to be another child this very Yuletide.”
Vizard struggled with this information. “She be a real goer, then, this Miss Tudor. Come to think on’t, I had a fetching saddleback sow knew how to get served first. Knew how to get her grub as well! Little charmer, she was....”
“For pity’s sake, Vizard, hold your tongue! Do we ask your pearls of farmyard cant in the drawing room?”
“Bloodsports, be hanged!” the farmer burst out. “You can’t fool Bill Vizard. Tis bedsport his lordship favours, either side o’ the blanket!”
Hearty guffaws ensued. Unfortunately, the Earl chose that precise moment to enter the room. He had ridden over from Berkeley as a gesture of goodwill, having eschewed a further brush with religion by absence from the christening. A startled hush fell upon the gathering.
“I’d be a churl to call out an old chaw-bacon like you, Vizard, but I’ll thank you to keep your cloddish wit for the byre. And know this,” he said, with a forbidding glance around his audience, “if anyone fails to accord my lady the respect she deserves and full compliance with her wishes, I will see him evicted from his hearth and he will never prosper is this Vale again. I don’t think I need add anything further. Now, Tom, Elizabeth, I trust I am permitted a peek at the young Christian.”
The Earl of Berkeley had said it. It came from his own lips. My lady. The news would catch fire around every parish in the county in less time than it took to say ‘Double Berkeley’.
The Berkeley Hunt in their distinctive tawny yellow livery.
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, Book One of the Berkeley Trilogy
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Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...