The Assembler

Chapter 4 - We Wunt Be Druv

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

"We wunt be druv," Cyril Hollis-Reynolds muttered, rebellion hot in his heart. He'd always thought the Sussex motto a great thing. Even so he was drawing on his riding gloves. Of course he was being druv, and very much against his will. He sighed. He’d never been much of a rebel, through be told. He’d left that to Ned and Emmie.

Another truth to be told, Cyril hated anything to do with horses. Yet here he was forced to go riding with the Guv. The Guv who was supposed to be too ill to be left alone! The Guv who hunted and had a horse bigger than a whale.

Ill. Bollocks. The man was stronger than an ox, more stubborn than a mule and had the constitution of an elephant. Cyril hesitated then, wondering just what sort of constitution an elephant truly had. It was a fascinating question, really, you had to admit.

Left to his own devices, Cyril would have headed straight to the library and spent hours happily finding out all there was to know about elephants, their habits, their lifespan, their dispositions. Fascinating stuff, really, the lives and loves of animals. So diverse. One day he’d like to go to India and ride one of the things. Well, unless they smelt too badly.

And he’d love to see a tiger! He wouldn't hunt one though. He might want to take a photogravure though. India ... in and of itself was quite fascinating, he believed. Lovely people, beautiful scenery... The place reeked of magic if what he’d heard was true, and there were wonders round every corner! Ancient ruins, wide vistas, new sorts of thinking... And it was a part of the empire, after all, so father wouldn't object, at least not too vociferously, he didn't think and .... and maybe Ned would go, and Emmie and it might be like it was once at Oxford when...

And suddenly Cyril’s smile faded and his thoughts crashed and burned. He was rudely pulled back into the current not quite so happy moment when he heard the old boy bellowing for him yet again. Mounted up and ready to ride already. Bloody hell but he was going to murder Emmie for talking him into coming home to hold their pater’s hand through this imagined illness. Isn't that supposed to be woman’s work, anyway? He nearly cringed thinking of how hard she'd hit him if he actually suggested that to her. Emmie was strong!

His thoughts still on the library, how once he inherited the place he'd renovate it, hire a cataloguer, and a book binder and have the old tomes rebound, hand tooled leather.. He could smell them already...

He started down the grand staircase.

He'd build more shelving, floor to ceiling on both open walls, and arrange things more comfortably and get some bloody better couches and chairs and a lot better lighting put in. He’d add more windows. Wall to ceiling ones in behind the desk, that opened out onto the garden. To hell with the old boy’s snuggery, what was wonted was a comfortable library full of glorious books! Emmie could have the bloody snuggery.

At another bellow coming from below Cyril shouted, “Coming father!”

Why wasn't the man back at Whitehall? Why had he resigned? Perhaps he could bribe someone to call him back? Cyril swore the old boy had resigned merely to make his own life a living hell. Really. He needed a job so he wouldn’t be murdered by either of his children!

They were to ride the estate today. The entire bloody estate! They were to visit the indigent, giving out hams and chickens, check up on the pottery works and the children employed there, as well as their families and the conditions in the factory, spend lunch with the annoying vicar who seemed to take great pleasure in lecturing Cyril, then check on the fields still unharvested and make certain the farmers were not needing anything, not to mention checking on flooding conditions near the river. It sounded like pure hell to Cyril who could already easily imagine how stiff he would be at the end of the day. He wondered if he could steal a moment before they left to grab a flask... “YES, Father, I’m hurrying!” Ned had no idea how much Cyril envied him his lack of a father.

There was a veritable army gathered on the front lawn outside the main entry to the manor. Well, at least it wouldn’t be only himself and his father. He could ignore the old boy and let him and the estate manager and the other minions chatter the entire way. For the first time the day seemed a bit brighter to Cyril.

Speaking of which, as he set foot outside, he was delighted to see it was a beautiful day. A cool ocean breeze touched his face at the same time as a warm sunbeam. Certainly the weather here was much nicer than London’s. Or even Oxford’s, truth be told. If only the old boy would leave him to his books! There was a terrific bower at the edge of the lawn, just where the forest began. The brook ran nearby. There he could read to his heart’s content! But no... He had to pretend to be the lordling. Oh, his soul for an elder brother!

How the devil did Emmie get away with avoiding being the lady of the manor? By rights she should have taken over for their long dead mother. Cyril wished he knew her secret. Surely it wasn’t merely her smile. Somehow she had father wrapped round one little finger. He jumped when Emmie made the slightest hint of a suggestion! He’d let her go off to Oxford, after all, and even kept his lips sealed when she trotted off to darkest, dimmest, Mesopotamia, or Africa or wherever the devil it was she was always going. Looking for bloody pots! There were plenty of pots right here in Sussex!

Then a groom was holding a sour-tempered horse of some sort for Cyril and he was forced to clamor up into the saddle and look like he knew what he was doing. He prayed to Socrates that he’d not embarrass himself today by falling off the great dour beast. That fellow’s eye looked satanic to Cyril. He just knew the horse was plotting to toss him into the nearest, muddiest rill.

“‘E’s a good ‘orse, sir, is Star,” the groom reported. “Just don’t kick ‘em too ‘ard. ‘E’ll respond best to the reins, Lord Cyril.”

“Thanks, Rudy. Appreciate it.”

Rudy motioned for Cyril to bend down and when Cyril did so Rudy whispered, “‘Ere, this’ll ‘elp.” Rudy slipped a hip flask into Cyril’s side pocket.

Cyril’s eyes went wide which made the groom wink in complete understanding. “Aye, sir. That’ll ‘elp with the day’s adventure.”

Father looked at Cyril suspiciously when he noted that Cyril was grinning happily.

Then everyone was trotting off in the Earl’s wake.

Cyril patted his pocket. He must remember to thank the groom more properly when he returned. If he returned, he added to himself glumly.

-------

They were seated on a patio under a tree that spat leaves onto Cyril, having lunch with the vicar, when the manor’s own first footman rushed up to the table. He hadn't been one of the party riding the estate, so he'd had to have come straight from the manor.

He held a note out. To Cyril and not to the Earl. Since the footman was not the sort to make an ill-bred sort of error (he’d not have kept his job for long if he were), the note was really for Cyril. Cyril, in some part of his brain, heard the footman apologizing for the interruption to both the vicar and to the Earl. Cyril was instead staring at the envelope in his hand as if it were something he'd never seen before.

Cyril was already feeling a bit panicky. I mean, who the devil would send him an urgent telegram or cable? Or letter. No one other than Emmie. Granted Cyril actually did have a job, but he didn't actually show up there all that often and they mostly left him alone. Mutual antipathy he guessed was the reason he was so nicely ignored. It worked for him and probably for them as well.

Cyril gingerly took the proffered envelope and then stared down at the front of it, turning it over to then look at the back. He ran his thumb along the length of it. It was clearly high quality vellum, addressed in an elegant hand and marked URGENT. The postmark was London. There was no sender’s address on it.

He didn't recognize the hand. An educated one, however, that was clear. The script was quite elegant, the titles all correct. The script suggested to an educated eye that a male had written it. The writing was too angular for most women. Even Emmie wrote in a more florid script. Training, he expected.

Surely nothing bad had happened to Emmie. The BM would have contacted father, by telegram, most likely.

Ned? Had Ned snuck back into the country? Doubtful. The last time they’d spoken face to face Ned had made it quite clear he’d never again set foot in his homeland, for any reason short of the universe collapsing around them. Besides, Ned’s writing was more chaotic than this was. Ned’s mind tended to wander, to be 20 miles ahead of his fingers when he wrote. That’s what happened with geniuses, Cyril supposed. He himself had no difficulty concentrating on what he was thinking NOW rather than what he might want to think in a few moments in the future.

The Earl’s eyes were on Cyril, even as he continued his conversation with the vicar concerning arrangements for the Christmas pageant and other festivities. Those eyes seemed to say, ‘get on with it, son’. Open it and get it well over with!

Cyril swallowed and slit open the envelope.

 

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