The arrival of the stranger
The stranger walked along the tree sheltered lane towards his destination. Every now and then he would manage to catch a glimpse of the village between the shrubs and bushes at the side of the lane. He could make out the church’s steeple with its strange crooked shape – the church that had been at the centre of his nightmares for so many years. It was finally time to face his demons.
In appearance the stranger was friendly looking, clean shaven, reasonably tall, slim, reasonably dressed, and looked around 55 years of age. Nothing at all extraordinary about his appearance except, of course, that he was a stranger to the area.
Jack Seacombe, the local farrier on his way back to the village after re-shoeing a horse that afternoon, espied the man on the side of the road and, being one of those genial, gentle and friendly types which villages tend to raise, reined in his trap with the intention of offering the man a lift. Jack, primarily, was a great gossip, and loved to know what was happening wherever he went – a stranger’s story was, therefore, far too good an opportunity for him to miss out on. ‘You goin’ far lad? I’m on me way to yon village but you’re welcome to hitch a ride like’, he called out to the stranger. The stranger gave him a polite and friendly smile and immediately stepped aboard. This was Jack’s cue to begin the subtle questioning that would, he hoped, gain him an appreciative audience in the Rose and Crown that evening.
After a suitable interval, during which Jack had covertly weighed up the stranger and deemed him to be ok, he began his opening salvo: ‘You’re not from round here I can tell, so what brings you to this neck of the woods then’? he asked, ‘there’s not so many strange faces pass this way’. The stranger sat himself comfortably back, looking relaxed and at ease, then proceeded to tell Jack the story he had rehearsed for the past couple of months. ‘Aye, you’re right, I’m not from these parts. I’ve recently just sold my grocer’s business and I’m not in any great need of finding another job quite just yet, so thought I’d take myself off and see where my feet take me. The name’s Jim, Jim Fuller, and I’m very grateful for the lift. Been travelling round now for a couple of weeks and the legs are in need of a break. Besides, I saw the steeple of yon church through the trees. Looks interesting, churches being an interest of mine, thought I’d take a look around if I could find a bed. Would you happen to know of anywhere in the village that’ll let me have a bed for a couple of nights or so’?
Jack, being the cousin of the man who owned the Rose and Crown was more than happy to recommend his favourite drinking hole. The man looked affable enough, was friendly and open, he certainly didn’t seem to be hiding anything anyway. He offered to drop Jim at the Rose and Crown where, he told him, he was sure, there would be a room available for him and the best cooked meals available in the village to boot. Jim was pretty pleased that the first part of his plan had worked without a hitch so far. He was well aware that the story he had spun Jack would be round the village before he’d managed to book himself into the hostelry – and this suited his purpose exactly. Jack knew that his face was the kind that people just automatically liked, his manner was friendly and he knew how to spin a yarn that was believable, it had stood him in very good stead in the past and, hopefully, was going to help him to achieve his goal in the not too distant future.
The village of Mannersby consisted of a number of cottages stretched out along the main through road, the farriers, a few shops providing a range of necessities as well as a few luxuries, a large church, the public house, a couple of larger houses, a school and, about half a mile up the hill above the village, a large residence – very obviously the main residence in the area and likely to be the main employer. Jim couldn’t see anything else which would provide much in the way of employment, though there may be something he was unaware of at present. The village itself looked, if not prosperous, then comfortable. It had an air of cleanliness and healthiness about it, which he certainly couldn’t say of the town he had left behind. There he had been all too well aware of the poverty which most of its inhabitants lived in, the various illnesses which carried its frailer inhabitants away far too quickly. There was so much greenery and so much clean air out in the countryside, so very different from the smog filled industrial towns he knew so well.
The Rose and Crown turned out to be one of those small but welcoming hostelries which had rooms for the odd stranger who happened upon the village and needed a bed. It was obvious that this was the centre of the village, at least for its menfolk, as the tap room was fairly crowded and fair humming with conversations. All of which stopped as Jim walked in.