A week later, Mr. Martin had the blacksmith and his two strapping apprentices, whose shop was located conveniently across the road from the Plow, help him to heave the fresh barrels of beer into his cart for his delivery out to Purvis Lodge. They were nearly done with their task when a big black carriage drawn by a handsome matching set of chestnuts passed them on the main road that ran through the middle of the village. It wasn’t one of the carriages anyone knew from nearby Haye-Park, it was of a newer manufacture that no one recognised.
Martin and the blacksmiths craned their necks in an attempt to get a look at the occupants of the carriage, and everyone on the street outside the shops did the same, all eager to get a first glimpse of who must surely be the new tenant of Purvis Lodge. It was to no avail, the shades were drawn low enough to obscure any passengers who may have dwelt within.
Their disappointment was lessened when, shortly thereafter, two large wagons loaded with crates and furniture passed through. Each wagon’s cargo was piled as high as safety would allow, lashed down with ropes tied in the most seaman-like fashion, and riding escort along the sides of each, clutching the ropes as they went, were sailors, their braids trailing out behind them.
Scarcely had the dust settled before the speculation began afresh all over the village as to the identity of the new master of Purvis Lodge.
When, sometime later, Mr. Martin finally turned the now familiar corner up the drive, the front of the lodge was bristling with activity. The number of sailors about the place seemed to have doubled with the arrival of the furniture, and the wagons that towed it in were nearly empty now, their contents having been offloaded and positioned in the yard like a vast staging ground. All hands were busy about their appointed tasks, several opening the crates and boxes, some were watering and feeding the horses, over there was Nithercott, who looked to be paying the wagon-masters, several of the boys were coiling ropes into neat piles and stowing them in camp.
A party of sailors was wrestling with what looked to be a vast, dark wardrobe as Martin stopped his cart as close to Mr. Higgins’ kitchen as he could. His way was checked by the carriage, which was drawn right up beside the cookfire.
Martin made his way around it in an attempt to find Higgins, and sure enough, he was there by the fire, in as clean an apron as ever he could muster. He had a little silver tray with a cup of coffee and two hard boiled eggs, and was offering it to a young man in a crisp naval lieutenant’s uniform. The young lieutenant took the coffee and looked across it with disdain at the approaching Martin. Mr. Higgins muttered to the young gentleman from behind, and in way of reply, the lieutenant exclaimed, “Ah! The pub man.” and with a dismissive sweep of his hand he continued, “You may place the beer over there.”
“Begging your pardon sir,” Martin interjected, “I wonder if I might be allowed to borrow a few of your men to unload the barrels?”
The young lieutenant looked pained, “I am certain you would never intentionally give offence, but I am the son of the third Duke of Grafton. Lord William Fitzroy, only recently assigned to His Majesty’s Frigate Acasta.”
“Begging your pardon again my lord.” Martin gave a little nod of the head and immediately stopped making direct eye contact.
Lord Fitzroy turned to see what the sailors were about in an attempt to ascertain which ones were the least busy, then called out in a voice that was quite accustomed to making itself heard, “Philips, Miller, Thomas, Nithercott! Lay along to the horse cart there and fetch down those barrels! Lively now!”
The four men met Martin at the back of the cart and after they had gotten the first of the barrels down, Martin found himself beside Nithercott.
“Is his Lordship the new master of Purvis Lodge?” he quietly inquired of the sailor as they heaved down the second barrel.
“Oh no sir,” Nithercott replied, but stopped when he looked over the barrel toward the young lieutenant and found him glowering at them as they worked. Nithercott no longer felt at his ease to answer any questions and they continued to work silently until the task was completed.
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