I have a jackdaw mind. I fall in love with shiny facts, and I just have to keep them. And then I’m tempted to show them to everyone, as I did with the following deleted scene from my forthcoming novel, a small celebration of the counting rhyme used by generations of Cotswold’s shepherds.
The scene introduces a whole lot of characters that never appear again, it doesn’t advance the plot but instead slows the action, and it adds nothing to our knowledge of the hero or heroine. It had to go.
But, oh, the amputation hurt.
Thanks to his sister Dorcas, he now knew Hannah Cooper’s full name, that she was a widow, that she was maid-of-all-work to Mrs Forsythe and her sisters, and that she was devoted to her ladies, especially Miss Daisy Forsythe, whose wet-nurse she had been.
From behind him, a small voice said, “They be out.” An interested audience of three small children and a dog watched him from the dust of the street.
“They be gone to Squire’s,” the tallest of the three children offered. They stood hand in hand, dressed alike in men’s shirts cut down to fit, with rope belts and bare heads, the older two with trousers under and the youngest just bare grimy legs. He guessed from the once pink ribbon adorning the slightly longer locks of the youngest that she was a girl.
“Are they now? All of them at the Squire’s, is it?” he asked.
The tallest child thought about this for a moment. “Just t’ ladies. Miss Daisy and the daftie are over t’Rectory, and Mizzus Cooper be out.”
The little girl took her thumb from her mouth to remark, “Collecting pots,” before plugging the thumb back again.
“And who are you, then?” John asked.
Again, the tallest child took a moment to think about the answer. “Forthery Williams,” he conceded. He nudged the boy on one side of him. “Fant.” Then he lifted the hand holding the little girl’s. “Sahny.”
John recognised the old sheep counting rhyme, and had no trouble translating. Forthery, Fant, and Sahny. Fourth, Fifth, Sixth. Come to think of it, there was a maid at the Court called Williams, and one of the other servants had called her Hant, which was First from the same rhyme. “I think I know your sister,” he told the children. “I’m John Price.”
Forthery looked him up and down from clear light blue eyes. “You be t’ Earl’s man,” he stated.
Fant spoke for the first time, a husky little voice that sounded not much used. “You be Willy Barret’s Uncle John.”
Yes. Though Dorcas’ second son Willy was a bigger lad, the well-fed son of a labourer on a prosperous farm, he and Fant could well be of an age.
“Yes to both,” John told the boys. He squatted down in the road, bringing his eyes closer to their level. “What sort of pots is Mrs Cooper out collecting, then?”
Sahny moved her thumb again, holding it an inch away from her lips ready to plunge back into the depths as she said, “Jam. She be making jam for t’fête.”
“I tasted it once,” Forthery said, his voice soft and reverent. The other two nodded, and the eyes of all three glazed over as they thought about jam.
John dug through his coat pocket to find the packet he’d bought at the tea shop in the village. He could soon pick up some more comfits for his nieces and nephews. He handed the twist of paper over to Sahny. “Here. Share this with thy brothers.”
She unwound the top and peeked inside, then closed it again, folding a tiny hand protectively around it. “And Tant and Tothery?” she asked, anxiously.
Second and Third, he translated. “Of course.”
Flanked by her brothers, she hurried away down the row.
Forthery stopped after a couple of steps and turned back.
“Happen Mizzus Cooper be at t’inn,” he offered, then hurried after his sister.