Excerpt of Farthing by Jo Walton
(Page 5 of 8)
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Royston slowed as they came into another village. Just past the church was an
unpleasant reminder of the invasion that had nearly happened, an Anderson
shelter, with children playing, running in and out of it. Royston said nothing,
but Carmichael felt the red tide of embarrassment burning on his cheeks. He
hadn't meant the Germans, nothing had been farther from his mind, he'd been
centuries away imagining Vikings or pirates descending on these smug sleepy
"I don't much care for bluebells myself," Royston said. "If we had to drive
down this way, I'd have preferred to do it a few weeks ago in primrose season.
Primroses are a beautiful colour, very cheering."
"I find them a bit on the soft side myself," Carmichael said. "Bluebells,
now, we do have them in the North. I wouldn't have thought you cared for flowers
at all, sergeant, I thought you were a strictly town man."
"Well, I was born and bred in London myself, but my mother's family lived in
"Round here?" Carmichael asked.
"Kent. I have an aunt who still lives there, some of the family go down to
see her at Easter and for the hop picking. Easter's when we used to see the
primroses, when I was a boy. It's a good way east of here, but I suppose from
the perspective of Lancashire it would count as these parts."
Carmichael laughed. "All these years, and I'd never have suspected you of
having a Kentish aunt, Royston. You hide it very well."
There was a fork in the road ahead. Royston slowed to a halt to check the
arms of the little signpost. "Would we want Farthing Green, Upper Farthing or
Farthing St. Mary?" he asked.
"Castle Farthing." Carmichael checked his notes and his map without effect.
There was an area on the map labelled unhelpfully _The Farthings_. "Head for
Farthing St. Mary," he said, decisively.
"Yes, sir," Royston said.
Carmichael knew the first secret of command, which was making a decision,
right or wrong, but going ahead without hesitating. He might have sent them off
the wrong way and condemned them to an endless trek through the barely charted
Hampshire countryside, but at least he had made a decision.
By pure luck he was right, the next sign offered "Castle Farthing" on one of
its branches, and the lane it led down, with its heavy hedgerows, came at last
to an end with a loop around a village green. There was a church, larger than
most, a pub, the Eversley Arms, a row of cottages, and a high wall containing a
pair of wrought iron gates with the word "Farthing" scrolling indolently across
them as if there were no other possible Farthing, as indeed, for anyone beyond
this little corner of Hampshire where people no doubt knew one Farthing from the
next, there was not. Beneath the name was the ubiquitous robin, the obverse of
the farthing coin, the political symbol of the Farthing set. With a start,
Carmichael realized that considering the antiquity of the gates, a century if it
was a day and probably more, this particular robin must pre-date the "Set" and
was doubtless the prototype for the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the gates were closed. Judging from the ruts in the gravel, this
was an unusual state of affairs. "Probably the local police shut them to close
off the house from press and sightseers," Carmichael said, indicating the ruts.
"Sightseers? Here?" Royston's London face dismissed the possibility. "All the
same, they should have left a bobby on the gates," he said, his tone reproving
the absent local constabulary. "Shall I try if they're open, sir?"
"You do that, sergeant," Carmichael said. As a young officer he'd have got
out to try them himself, and lost all his subordinate's respect in the process.
Now he sat back and watched Royston crunch across the gravel.
Copyright © 2006 by Jo Walton