The Lord is my shepherd
In the days following Lord John Dyke Acland’s purchase of the tenancies near Doulting, Somerset, the local farmers would meet as they always had in the small Ram’s Rest tavern just off the Roman road east of the village. Pipe smoke, the low rumble of conversation and the vacant looks of doubt filled the public room, but none of the old laughter and conviviality the men usually found at the bottom of their cups.
On this spring Saturday evening, the widower Stephen Bodden pushed open the heavy oaken door and the blast of heat from the large fireplace caught him full in the face like something between a slap and a caress. He stepped inside the tavern, closed the door and stood stock still, his hands in the pockets of his coat as his eyes adjusted to the yellow glow of candles and the crackling fire.
“Ho, Bodden,” called Edward Simmonds, the owner of the Ram’s Rest. Simmonds reached for a mug and Bodden’s clay pipe, which the he kept in a case behind the bar. “Would you wish an ale tonight, sir?”
Bodden felt the eyes of the men in the tavern turn toward him as he walked to the bar. He nodded at a few of the patrons and placed his rough left hand on the slab of oak that served as a bar.
“Yes, an ale would do me well, Mr. Simmonds,” he said.
“What have ye heard, Stephen?” said Inish Lundy. “Is it true? Is Acland taking our farms to raise horses? No more sheep?”
“Aye, horses and wheat. I did as I said I would, talked to his Lordship’s agent this morning. He told me Acland will be sending men from his properties in Devon to help with the change within the fortnight,” Bodden said in a harsh whisper.
“What will become of us?” Lundy said. “Few of us know naught of the hot blood. I know sheep and the plow.”
“That…has not been decided…yet,” Bodden said, and took a long drink of ale, his eyes never leaving the mug even after he put it on the bar. “But his Lordship will need hands to work his properties, make his money, and we still hold our tenancies until he decides otherwise.”
“Until then, we shall do as we’ve always done. Lambing time is coming upon us and we have enough to worry about there. It will make him his rent and profit and help us put aside money, God willing, until whatever will happen…happens.”
Bodden hunched over his mug and took a pull upon his pipe.
And what of my girls, with no mother and no prospects, still so young and all? What if their father loses everything to the whim of some cockscomb from Devon? Those are the bigger questions, Bodden thought.
Those and what would happen if the agent’s body was found.
My friend Kellie Elmore’s novella Withering will be published any day now. She’s been a great supporter of my work for just about as long as I’ve been slapping it up here on the digital public wall. This past weekend she asked writers to begin to tell the story they’ve had burning in them for the longest time. She knows I have this book,if not burning in me then smoldering in a persistent agita for a long time. You’ve seen snippets, thoughts and pieces of it here every now and then, but I sat to a potential first draft of a first chapter and came up with this.