The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 2: The Duke Approaches



    
The Duke of Wellington, riding upright upon his horse, felt himself relax as he approached Bloxley Bottom. He came here often and, when he did, he was able for a time to put officialdom behind himself, as the villagers, whilst well aware of who he was and what his achievements were, tended to treat him rather more like a man than like a figurehead. Here in Bloxley, the Duke was able to interact with people on a more personal level, perhaps because he was such a familiar figure to them. Or perhaps because the people of Bloxley were less given to humbug than those who lived elsewhere.

Turning into the high street, the Duke looked forward to the routine that would momentarily begin at his approach, for he was a man who championed routine; a man who felt that routine gave structure to life, whether that life be spent in the military, the government, or in Bloxley Bottom.
“Good day to you, yer Grace!” Walter Turner came out of his bakehouse, dusting his hands off upon his massive white apron.
The Duke of Wellington gave Walter his usual greeting – a two fingered salute to the brim of his hat. “Walter, how is the family?”

Walter smiled up at the Duke, exposing wide, yellowed teeth that reminded the Duke of an ivory set of dominoes his ADC’s had played upon at Talavera.

"Oh, you know how they go, Duke,” chuckled Walter, “hard to live with, but impossible to live without. Can’t complain. Hey, I’ve got some loaves just come out the oven. I’ll put three by for you to take back to the Castle on your way home. And Mrs. Preston wanted you to know that she’s got ducks what are ready. If you are.”

Loaves, live stock and more were always offered up for the Duke. They were part and parcel of the routine.

“Duke! Dooooook!” Old Rodney Casper had weaved his way up the street towards the Duke and Walter. His first question would be yet another part of the routine.
“Parley vooo?” Whenever Rodney was in his cups, which was more often than not, he insisted upon speaking French to the Duke. The problem was, Rodney did not know how to speak the language. Why he supposed that the Duke regularly conversed in French remained a mystery to all.

“I’m right as rain, Rodney. And you?”
“Come and see and come and say.” Rodney, in his musty, fusty mismatched suit of clothes and battered cloth cap, craned his neck, squinted his eyes and peered up at the Duke of Wellington for few moments before turning his attention towards Walter and giving his face the same intense scrutiny. Then, like some great bird, Rodney pulled his head back in and announced  “Gotta be off.” With that, he tottered in place for a few moments, seemed to pick up some steam and then began the long stagger home.

The Duke of Wellington sighed and gathered his reins. “Please tell Mrs. Preston that I shall have a talk with Mrs. Allen regarding the ducks,” he told Walter. “We shall no doubt find use for them. We’re to have a full complement of guests beginning on Thursday.”

The Duke rode on until he reached the bend in the road which would ultimately bring him to the dower house, home of Louisa, Dowager Baroness Boxley. He prepared himself for his next routine encounter, this with a resident a bit more recently come to the village.

 
“Wait for it . . . . wait for it . . . .” the Duke muttered to himself as, beneath him, his mount, called Bedford after the county it had been born in, prepared himself, as well. The horse’s nostrils flared and its eyes, the whites wide, fastened upon to the thicket at the side of the road as a dog came bounding out of it towards the pair.

And what a dog it was. The deuced strangest looking dog that ever was, thought the Duke as he tightened up on the reins in an effort to calm the horse. The animal, which had appeared in Bloxley Bottom seemingly out of the clear blue sky about a year ago and taken up residence in the thicket, was unlike any other dog the Duke had ever laid eyes upon. Or rather he was too much like too many canines the Duke had seen. As the Duke had been known to say, this dog looked for all the world as though God, in a humorous frame of mind, had one day looked about his workshop, found spare parts left over from previous dogs he’d devised, cobbled the lot together and set it down in Bloxley to see what the villagers would make of it. In fact, one of the more witty townsfolk had named the dog Spot and Spot he'd remained, even though his coat was a uniform, unbroken shade of white.

The rear of the dog was narrow, like that of a terrier. Its mid-section gradually widened until it reached a great ruff of hair resembling the mane of a lion, which framed a massive head reminiscent of a bull dog, complete with a menacing under bite. Odder still, none of its various parts resembled any dog that had ever been known to inhabit the village.
As ever, the dog reached a seemingly self-imposed boundary, sat down upon its haunches, lowered its massive head and commenced a great growling that began in the region of its tail. Up through its body the growl traveled, past its shoulders and into the sinewy neck, through its throat and out its fearsome mouth.
“Arp.”

The Duke laughed aloud. “Arp yourself, you great daft thing.” What a demmed disappointing bark it was. The build up to it was stupendous. The end result, only ever a single, feeble “arp,” another comedic stroke orchestrated by God in his heaven.

Reaching into his coat pocket, the Duke withdrew a handkerchief, from which he extracted two sausages he’d taken from the breakfast table that morning for just this purpose. He threw one, then the other, to the dog, who gobbled them down.

“Not a word to Mrs. Allen,” he warned the dog, “There’d be hell to pay if she knew where her good sausages had gone.” Mrs. Allen, the Duke’s housekeeper at Walmer Castle, was not overly fond of dogs.

 
After a moment the Duke trotted off. When he reached the bend in the road, the Duke did not avert his eyes, but at the same time raised his hat in silent salute to Aurelia, whom he was certain had watched his approach from behind her lace curtains.


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