An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1) (8 page)

BOOK: An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1)
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12
Sailors' Stories
Tuesday, 12 June 1792, Aylsham, Norfolk

I
n the days that followed
, Adam made good his plan to use some of the fees from his new-found patients to buy himself a better saddle. After his recent escapades, William had come to him with a long face. Not only had the master failed to treat Betty with proper respect, all this riding had left her with sores where his old saddle rubbed. Adam hid his smile and agreed to make amends. Betty was not the only one to suffer from soreness after a long ride. When he could, Adam would buy a curricle to ride about in, as befitted a prosperous doctor. For the present, a new saddle must suffice. His reward for this purchase was a happy groom and that air of contentment about his house which befits a sound relationship twixt master and servants.

Nor did Adam neglect other business matters. He made visits to several patients, old and new, being careful to be home by nightfall. He reckoned up his accounts and rendered the resultant bills, though he expected few to be settled with promptness. Indeed, the richer and more distinguished the patient, the more he or she seemed to believe that prompt payment signified a common nature. Still, he had no doubt all would pay in time, once the delay was judged suitable to their status in society. He dealt with correspondence and creditors. He even found the time to write fresh advertisements. These he would place in local newspapers to solicit more business. Thus a week and more passed, until, one dismal afternoon in a month already marked more by rain and cold winds than spring blossom, Capt. Mimms called at his surgery.

A
dam had
no patients to see that day after dining, so had taken the rare opportunity to sit and read in his parlour. He struggled to stay abreast of developments in his profession. As a busy young doctor, he found it impossible to attend lectures given in Norwich by eminent physicians and scientists. Instead, he patronised the booksellers or the Norfolk and Norwich Subscription Library. He also drew information from letters sent by many of his colleagues in England and the Low Countries.

One such letter had arrived that morning. It contained an account of how infusions containing the common foxglove helped in cases of congestion of the heart. Adam was deep in its contents when Molly, the kitchenmaid, knocked at the parlour door. Adam had not heard the caller nor noticed Molly going to answer. With Mrs. Brigstone and Hannah occupied elsewhere, Molly was forced to undertake the duty, though it was much against her will. Since arriving in the household, she had rarely ventured to leave the safety of the kitchen.

Since he was preoccupied, Adam spoke somewhat more roughly than he had intended. He sought always to be as kind and polite to servants as any master, but Molly was new and her timid ways grated on him. Now the silly ninny stood shaking before him, seemingly unable to deliver her message. ‘Speak up,’ he said, more kindly now. ‘What is it you must tell me?’

‘A visitor, sir,’ she said, her voice a high-pitched whisper. Adam put down his letter and gave his whole attention to coaxing the matter from her.

‘Very good, Molly. A visitor. Does this person have a name? Has he or she vouchsafed the nature of their business with me? Take your time and tell me what message you bring.’

The girl swallowed hard, then gave her message in a single breath. ‘Capt. Mimms sends you his compliments and apologises for coming without warning and has been to Yarmouth and is now going home and desires to speak with you if you are not engaged or seeing a patient…sir’.

She gasped in air and seemed ready to faint away.

‘Capt. Mimms? Capt. Mimms?’ Adam cried, leaping up from his chair so violently that the girl shrank back against the wall, putting out her hand to ward off whatever attack on her person he might intend. ‘Capt. Mimms, you say? Why did you not tell me instantly, instead of quivering like the veriest mouse? I am not an ogre who eats kitchenmaids, Molly, though I am sorely tempted when I find one as faint of heart as you. Stand up, gather yourself and show Capt. Mimms in here as befits a sensible girl. Then be off to the kitchen and ask Mrs. Brigstone to give you a jug of punch and glasses and bring them back here quickly.’

As the poor child hurried off, not at all certain that he did not have it in mind to make an end of her, Adam put his letter to one side. As he stood to welcome his guest, he still mumbled curses on girls fresh from the farm, especially those who had neither wit nor stomach enough to serve a civilised household. She would be better off feeding the hens, or milking the cows or, best of all, tending to sheep as silly as her.

At that moment, the door opened and Capt. Mimms came in, all smiles and apologies for disturbing the peace of the afternoon. Behind him, Molly’s white face showed only briefly, before she fled to the kitchen.

‘A thousand apologies, dear sir,’ Capt. Mimms began. ‘It is, I know, most deuced rude of me to call unannounced in this way. I am on my way home from some days spent about my business in Norwich and Yarmouth. My sons are good lads and tend to matters as I taught them. Yet I venture to believe an occasional visit from their father is still of use to them.’

‘I do not doubt it, sir,’ Adam said. ‘Besides, you need find no excuse to come to my home. I am most delighted to see you. Be sure that you will always have a hearty welcome here, should you call in the middle of the night. Where is that wretched girl? I sent her for punch, for I am sure you must be in need of refreshment after your journey.’

‘The wretched girl, master, is blubbering in the kitchen in a fine state from your treatment.’ It was Mrs. Brigstone who now came, carrying the tray herself. She set it down, then turned to the two men. Her expression commanded silence from both.

‘As you know full well, sir, Molly is new and most unsure of herself. Where is the good of me seeking to encourage her to settle, if you bark at her and send her away in tears? Your pardon, Capt. Mimms. You are most welcome here. I am Susan Brigstone, the Housekeeper.’

‘Mrs. Brigstone,’ Capt. Mimms said, while Adam stood torn between embarrassment and shame. ‘The maid answered the door with every politeness, invited me within and took my message in the most exemplary manner. Please give her my compliments and assure her that no maid could have done better. Indeed, if this young fellow here has no need of such a one, I will take her into my own household, if she is willing to come to Holt.’

‘You are most kind, sir’ Mrs. Brigstone said. ‘I will tell her, though I intend that she should stay here to finish her training, if only as a constant reproach to thoughtless men. Please sit and refresh yourself. My master has spoken of you most warmly and I am glad to make your acquaintance. Perhaps a few lessons from a man such as you may even train him in a greater degree of politeness to his servants.’

It slowly dawned on Adam that both were having fun at his expense, though he had to own that he deserved it. ‘I will speak to Molly myself later and endeavour to convince her that I mean her no harm. To be fair, I was deep in a most interesting letter when she came in and was thinking only of what it contained. Still, I own my fault and am ready to make amends. The compliments from our good friend here should go far to smooth ruffled feathers. Later, I will also submit meekly to your scolding, Mrs. Brigstone, as indeed I should. But let us not burden Capt. Mimms with my deficiencies as a master, many though they be. Will you take supper with us, sir? Better still, will you stay here tonight and continue to Holt in the morning?’

‘I will take supper with you gladly, for I hope thus to know you better,’ Capt. Mimms replied. ‘Yet I am not so lacking in decency as to descend unannounced and expect to find a bed prepared. No, my good sir, I will stay tonight at The Black Boys Inn in the Market Place. Indeed, I have already left my chaise and horse with the stableboy there. I have also taken the precaution of securing a room.’

He turn once more to Mrs. Brigstone. ‘Thank you for bringing me refreshment, Mrs. Brigstone. You also reveal the robust good sense of Norfolk people, mixed with the kindness I have always received from them.’

Mrs. Brigstone blushed at his words. ‘I see you know how to charm, sir,’ she said. ‘When you were a mariner, I am sure you lacked for no female company in any port of the world.’

‘Ah,’ Capt. Mimms said, ‘that was long ago, when I was a strapping lad out to taste whatever pleasures the world might offer me. Then I found a true and loving wife in Antwerp, brought her to Yarmouth, and forgot my roving ways. Alas, she is dead these ten years and I miss her as sorely as I ever did. But come, doctor, let us speak of happier things, for I came here for more than the pleasure of your company. I bring you news that has much bearing on the death of the Archdeacon of Norwich.’

‘Then I will leave you to talk of that, masters.’ Mrs. Brigstone said. And, with that, she left them.

A
dam was usually
the most patient of listeners. Today though his excitement at having someone before him to whom he could relate the taking of the smugglers at Gressington and the arrest of Garnet was too much for him. Before Capt. Mimms could open his mouth to relay his news, Adam began to explain what he had heard of the events of May. His guest smiled and held up a hand to stop him. ‘Nay, sir. I know all about that news. Even now, Garnet is held in the castle at Norwich, awaiting transfer to London and trial before a judge at the Old Bailey. His passenger on that night is not with him though. None that I have spoken with are sure where he may be, but I do not doubt he too is held securely somewhere. War with France is coming again, I fear, which will be a sad blow for our trade.’

‘Will Constable Garnet hang, do you think?’ Adam asked.

‘Most assuredly,’ Capt. Mimms replied. ‘You do not kill an officer of the crown – one victim is dead, another sore wounded – and walk away from the noose. Death may indeed come as a relief to the wretch, for I fear the authorities will have pressed him hard for as much information as they can. Now, my friend, let us speak no more of what is old news, for you will not have heard what I have to tell you.

‘Since we met last, I have made it my business to visit many of my friends, acquaintances and business contacts in Yarmouth. It is no hardship, for most keep an excellent table and wine cellar. Besides, I assure myself that maintaining such acquaintance is sound business. I try to refrain from interfering in the way my sons manage our trade, but I can see no harm in helping them where I can. As you will understand, business relies on trust which is strengthened when people do business with those they know. My sons are young, but many of the most important persons amongst the merchants of the coast are now old, as I am. We find it easier to talk with those who share our memories.’

Through all this, Adam had been struggling to contain his impatience. Would Capt. Mimms ever get to the point? Before he wandered yet further into reminiscence, Adam ventured a question. ‘Did you learn ought of interest from these men?’

Capt. Mimms regarded him with a benevolent smile. ‘My good doctor, you are yet young and as impatient as all of your age, I see. Forgive an old man’s ramblings. They did indeed have much to tell me. Old seafarers love little more than to share tales, unless it is a glass of good grog. To save you from becoming quite frustrated, I will tell you all, as plainly and rapidly as I may.

‘My friends expected something to happen along this coast. The word had gone round these past three months that the government was taking a close interest in the whole coast from Harwich to Lynn. One, who has several ships plying the seas between here and the estuary of the Scheldt, noticed an increase in the number of navy ships lying at anchor in Yarmouth Roads. Another heard rumours of government spies abroad amongst the inns and drinking places most used by mariners. Such people are common enough, for the Revenue work hard to find where they might best send their riding officers to surprise smugglers. Yet now the number of spies had increased. All, it seemed, were seeking information about landings of contraband along the north coast. They did not show the usual interest in the creeks and beaches southwards to Orford. Instead they wanted to hear of gangs who operated between Hunstanton and Cromer – and, most especially, between Wells and Sheringham. There were also sudden searches of cargoes, ostensibly for contraband. Officers questioned ships' masters about any passengers carried. They were especially interested in those taking passage to and from the continent.

‘As you may well imagine, this behaviour gave rise to much discussion. Those who make their living by trade and the sea are ever alert for signs of trouble. We have no love for the smugglers, nor they for honest merchants, but we manage to leave one another alone. Their interest lies in small, easily handled items of high value; ours in these parts mostly in grain, timber and cloth. If the inns sell liquor more cheaply as a result of these rascals’ actions – and a neighbours’ cellar contains good brandy and geneva spirits for him to dispense liberally to his guests – why should we complain?

‘Your face tells me plainly that I am rambling again. Sadly, it is a common failing in the old. Very well, I shall return to the essence of my tale.

‘The general opinion amongst merchants and shipowners was this. The authorities wanted information to let them seize people slipping spies and gold into England. The French want information about our military strength and readiness. That is plain. These revolutionaries also send money to support insurrection amongst the disgruntled and poor. France is in ferment, yet we, in England, are not so free from riot and disturbance that we may be smug. Scarce a dozen years ago, London was set ablaze by riots against the Papists. Of late, mobs have chanted ‘for God and the King’ in Birmingham, while destroying Unitarian meeting-houses and the homes of some noted men of science who are of that sect. I hear that the magistrates stood by and urged on the rioters, while the constables joined in the destruction. Men like Wilkes and Paine inflamed sedition, and the fire still burns.

‘At first, too many of our men of influence ignored events across the Channel. Some even thoughtlessly welcomed the overthrow of the previous regime. They believed it would lead to more peaceful relations if our neighbour employed a constitutional system of monarchy like ours. Not a few reasoned that a France weakened by political upheavals would allow the growth of English trade. Without their interference, the extending of our empire could proceed without challenge.

BOOK: An Unlamented Death: A Mystery Set in Georgian England (Mysteries of Georgian Norfolk Book 1)
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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