Tidbits: Stillbrook Dairy

Deleted scene from My Father's Son by Penny Freeman

[In route to London, Duncan, Shepherd, Dovey and Foreman take shelter from a hundred-years storm.]

     Floundering through the mass of swirling white engulfing him, Duncan at last groped a low stone wall with the low eaves of a pitched roof just higher than his brow.  He had no idea what he found, but they would take any shelter in that storm. 
     "Wait here!" he shouted to his mates over the howling storm. "I will find the door!"  Deaf and blind with nature's fury, each had stopped after plowing into the horse before him.  Duncan surrendered the reins of his mount to his partner,  communication enough for the four friends.
     They had stumbled upon a small but prosperous dairy, with walls of stone and a flagstone floor, kept with meticulous care. It was not The George at Dover, but it would do. They had slept in far worse, and they would have never survived the fast encroaching night out of doors.
     Within, instead of darkness, a lantern burning low hung from the rafters near the doors. In the center of the space, a large, circular hearth contained a well-tended fire. Duncan turned to his partner, Shepherd. "Find him," he muttered softly.

     Foreman and Dovey, the other two men in his crew, took charge of the horses, although they eyed Duncan and Shepherd stroll the length of the place, inspecting it.  Then, deep in the darkened periphery, Shepherd lunged into a stall without warning and emerged with a young boy not yet nine years old. Foreman laughed out loud.  "Odd place for tickling fish."  
     "I ain't no fish," the child protested.  Tough and full of vinegar, he fought his captor, but when hauled before the dark and ominous shadow looming over him, he feet stilled while his shoulders quaked. Duncan crouched down to look the boy in the eye. "What is your name, lad?"
     The boy backed into the long legs of his captor.
      "You're not afraid," Duncan challenged quietly. "A great lad like you?"
      The boy stiffened his spine and squirmed at the hand restraining him.  "I never afore seen me a highwaymen," he protested.  "I seen me a ruddle man once, but never a bandit. Are you going to cut out my liver?"   
     The travelers critiqued their intimidating leader.  "It's the coat that does it," Dovey decided.  "And the height."
     "And the hat," Foreman added.
     "And the hair," Shepherd agreed.  "But then, you know that."
      Duncan snorted, then set about to remedy the situation. Peeling off first his hat, then his muffler and his long leather riding coat, layer by layer he revealed himself, as did his mates, and Teddy grew more at ease. 
     "Why," the boy objected, "you're just a gennelman." Duncan managed a smile.
      "I can't help the hair," he apologized, slicking it back from his face with both hands. Dark, wet from the ice and snow, hopelessly disheveled and perpetually too long, the shaggy mane had a will of its own.
      "My da calls me Bill," the wanderer told the boy. "This is Robin," he pointed to Shepherd; "Dash", to Dovey; "and Harry," he concluded, tipping his head at Foreman. "And you?"
      "Me gaffer calls me Teddy."
      "You tend this fire, Teddy?"
      "I do," the boy replied, squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin to stretch his height. "I'm man enough. Me gaffer says this storm could blow for days. He seen it once when he were a lad. His house were all buried in snow by the time it were through."
      "So you tend the stock."
      "The gaffer figures the storm caught the help in the village, like the midwife, it come up so fast.  My mama's time's come, so he has to see to her.  He says I'm big enough to keep back the fever. He says the young Miss is the finest mistress and  Stillbrook's the finest dairy in Kent, and it's up to me to see it stays that way."
     Duncan ruffled the lad's thatch of straw-colored hair as he stood erect.  "Perhaps we can lend you a hand."

      The rhythmic ping-ping of milk jets striking the tin pail accentuated each pull as Duncan kneaded the teats of the Jersey before him. The last in the line, he milked her and two others three times a day.  He did not mind the work. Restive and tense, he found the exercise becalming.
      His duty required him to become all manner of men, and he was excellent at what he did. He transformed himself to suit each need, from a vagrant and sot to a peasant or day-laborer, to a son of privilege, effete, indolent, and hedonistic. Truth be told, he thought little of such elevated gentlemen and the price of their pleasures to the oppressed and downtrodden.  He much preferred the rustic and feared he betrayed his family with the sentiment.
      Despite his self-doubt, he knew that if indeed he fled the onus of his great expectations, he turned instead to responsibilities more burdensome still. For five years, he had been trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea, his duty to King and Country and his duty to his family.  He had been raised knowing the land, people and family honor his forefathers made their stewardship. One day, as head of his House, Duncan would shoulder that responsibility.  At that time, the Westmark legacy would be his to fulfill or fail.
      At that time. Now was not that time. Never would be that time. He had to get to his father.
      His chore done, Duncan patted the heifer's flank and offered a gentlemanly word of thanks. He took a parting shot at the cat, alert and expectant, waiting hard by, then took his bucket into the creamery and strained it into a large steel can. He sealed the lid, then set the can with the others in the long rows filling the dairy. Each one marked another minute, another hour, another day they lingered there, waiting for the hundred-years' storm to blow itself out.
      Urgency to get to town enveloped Duncan since the moment Shepherd reached them more than five days gone. A caul of fear, it encased him, blurred his sight, choked off his air, constricted his soul, and slowly petrified into the ineluctable paralysis of grief.
      He had to get home.  He had to get to his father.

      Duncan bolted upright with a start, uncertain of what exactly had awoken him. It was not from cold. Between the fire, the insulating stone, and each individual furnace of the dozen heifers, the stable stayed warm enough.  He looked about the dairy in the deep gloam of the waning coals. Nothing stirred. All was still. Teddy had nestled beside him. He slept peacefully, as did all his crew. The purr of a cat who had decided Shepherd's chest its own personal space provided the only sound. The rest was silence.
      Duncan hurried to the window and opened the shutter to peer into the gray predawn. The wind had stopped howling, but the snow fell fast and free. It drifted up against fences, walls and hedgerows, but the wind had scoured the road clear enough to see. In the near distance he watched as a light flared into life in an upstairs room.
      Hurriedly, he nudged all his mates with his toe. Shepherd bolted upright and donned a boot before he awakened enough to demand, "What is it?"
      "The wind has let up," Duncan answered. Without a hint of debate, Dovey and Foreman to begin securing their gear. "The gaffer is coming," Duncan expounded.  "He won't leave the boy."
      Shepherd gazed out the window skeptically. "It still snows heavily," he warned.
      "The wind has let up," Duncan argued. "Right now, we can see the road." Shepherd jerked his chin and joined the others in saddling the horses. Duncan crouched down and nudged Teddy awake. The boy eyed his friend sleepily, but bolted up when he realized the man dressed for travel. 
      "Teddy," Duncan enjoined. "Which way to Challock? Which way to the Canterbury road?"
      "Are you leaving me?" the boy whimpered as he pointed out the direction.
      "Your grandfather is coming for you, Teddy. I saw his light. You kept back the fever, mate. You saved Miss Joliet's cows.  He shall be proud of you. Very proud indeed."
      "I didn't draw all that milk, Duncan.  I won't say I did."
      "Say what you like."  Duncan produced a gold sovereign from his purse and put it in the boy's hand.  "Tell your mother I thank her. The stores she left you kept us from living on oat porridge for three days."
      Teddy wagged his head and pushed back the money to the big man. "My mama would whoop me if she knowed I took coin from a road man."
      "We are not road men, Teddy. I thought you believed us."
      "She won't, now will she?"
      Duncan and Shepherd eyed one another in silent communication, then the leader dropped down to the boy's eye level. "Ted, have you ever played at wild savages?"
      Teddy looked offended. "I'm too grown for such foolishness. I have work to do."
      Duncan smiled. "Then, you never pretended to be someone else—perhaps an explorer or a sea captain or maybe even a knight fighting dragons?"
      Teddy allowed himself a nod of truth.
      "Duncan is a game I play, mate—when I do not wish to be my true self."   He again put the coin into the boy's hand. "When you tell your mama I was here, name me Pierpont Durant, Miss Jolliet's cousin."
      Teddy's eyes flared wide and his pulse leapt in his throat. "She would wallop me for certain sure for telling lies about such a gennelman—especially about Miss Jolliet's kin. Then she would give me to the gaffer when she spent her breath."
      Duncan sighed and knew the truth of it. "Tell her, I said 'Piper'. Tell her Miss Jolliet calls me 'Piper'. You could not possibly know that unless you spoke the truth."

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