He had just bent down to tie his shoes laces and this is what probably caused him to disappear behind the large box. It wasn’t that he was being nosey, it was the act of him bending down which had caused him to accidentally overhear the conversation.
“Who is going do it?” asked one of the men.
“Looks like it will be me,” said a younger voice.”He’ll be at the Mermaid Inn in Rye, tomorrow. We kill him there.”
“What about the body?” the older man asked.
“The Colonel said he’ll deal with all the rest.”
Arthur never thought that the summer was going to be as exciting as this. He’d been prepared for it all to be a complete bore. His family were still in India and they weren’t due home for another two weeks. Since school had finished for the summer, he had been watched over by the staff. He found it easy to fool them. He would tell them he had a doctor’s appointment, the third one in the last two weeks, if they had bothered to count.
He just told them his aunt was the only one to take him as it was ‘boy’s stuff’. This allowed him to wander the streets of London, unmolested.
Arthur’s natural curiosity got him into all sorts of predicaments. One day he sat in St. James’ park watching two gentlemen in hats, talking very quietly to each other which convinced Arthur that they were spies. He had been sitting there so long that someone had reported Arthur to a police constable. One who insisted in taking the boy home to talk to his parents, Arthur knew that if this was to happen the game was up. So he told the constable that he lived on Piccadilly, it was the first place he could think of. As they crossed Pall Mall a horsed reared up, allowing Arthur to pull away from the constable and escape towards Trafalgar Square.
The reason Arthur had been watching the gentlemen so carefully was that if the men were spies then Arthur wanted to ask if he could join their group, or whatever it was that spies belonged to.
But this was the first time he had heard people talking aloud about killing someone in Rye or anywhere to be honest. He’d been to Rye every summer with his grandparents since 1902. His mother and father always chose the summer to travel, leaving Arthur with whomever was the nearest. He never believed he was abandoned; he just felt that he had all the freedom that a boy needed.
Arthur peered over the end of the box to see what the bad guys looked like. Actually they looked very ordinary, Arthur had always imagined baddies having moustaches and smoking cigars. The older baddy looked like his dad, and the younger companion well, looked like Arthur.
One of the two turned to where Arthur was hiding causing Arthur to throw himself as low as possible.
“What?” asked the younger baddy.
“Thought I heard something, that’s all. We’ll take the 7.18 tomorrow morning,” said the older one.
And with that they disappeared into the throng of the station.
Arthur would be back tomorrow to take the 7.18 train to Rye. No need to tell the staff, they usually let him sleep on in the morning anyway, so he could slip out unnoticed.
The next morning was a glorious one. The sun was shining and as Arthur got nearer the station he got more and more excited. Suddenly the summer looked a real treat, what with spies and killing and such, it was going to be a great one.
He had considered wearing a false beard but soon realised that he would be charged as an adult on the train, so he brought one of his father’s old hats; one that he could pull down over his face, if the need arose.
He got to the station very early - one reason for this was to avoid Cuthbert questioning ‘where the young master would be bound on such a lovely morning?’
Arthur chose the end carriage where he could keep an eye on everyone who was boarding the train. This was simple enough at first but as the train got more crowded there were just far too many people for him to observe satisfactorily. He thought he saw the baddies but he couldn’t swear to it.
Then a thought entered his head, what would he do if they had pistols? I mean an adventure is an adventure but being shot at was a tad too dangerous. Still, if Arthur did take a bullet Cuthbert would get the blame not taking care of the boy in the first place. A bullet wound would be a jolly good thing to take back to school, why they might even make him head of the house.
On second thoughts, Arthur liked to do his own thing and being considered for the head of house would curtail his freedom. If he got shot and killed, well the chaps might raise a statue to the bravest boy who had ever attend Claiborne. He wondered if all his pals would weep at his sacrifice and maybe his mother would throw herself on the ground and wish that she had been so much kinder to her brave son.
The train gave a jolt as it pulled out of the station bringing Arthur back to the here and now. He decided that sitting looking out the window was not the stuff of spies, so he pulled the hat down over his face in case he was spotted.
It took a long time to get to Rye, in fact Arthur had eaten everything he’d taken with him – even the emergency caramel bars. There were a few passengers who alighted at Rye, including the baddies which was a relief to Arthur who kept several steps behind them as they climbed up into the town.
At the High Street, the baddies took a turn up Lion Street towards St Mary’s
church. His grandma’s house was on Church Square on the other side and hopefully the house was closed for the winter. Hopefully there would be no embarrassing meetings with one of his own family.
The baddies cut around at the top of Lion Street and were certainly headed for Mermaid Street – ‘the prettiest little street in all Christendom’; as his grandma was want to describe it.
Arthur was considering what to do next. The police constable was a good friend of his grandfather’s and perhaps he should contact him to let him know that two scoundrels were on the loose ready to assassinate a very important person, perhaps the King himself. Arthur wasn’t sure if the King ever stayed at the Mermaid Inn but he could be just passing.
Arthur pulled his hat down so far that he had difficulty seeing where he was walking, and as for the disguise – he had just walked into Mermaid Street when a woman’s voice said:
“Arthur? Young Arthur Rawlings, is that you?”
“Never heard of him,” said Arthur in his deepest, manly voice.
“It is you,” said the lady as she lifted his hat.”Wait until I tell my Sammy, I didn’t know your grandparents were back in town.”
“They’re not Mrs Andrews, I’m on a mission.”
“On a mission, you say. I’ve never heard the likes.” And with that she trotted off laughing to herself.
“Women!” said Arthur. Soon he was back on the trail but the baddies had disappeared, probably with guns blazing into the Mermaid Inn.
What should he do, call for help? Or deal with these scoundrels on his own?
Arthur decided that the worst that could happen is he gets shot dead and a statue erected, so he counted to three, and then counted to three again, and then three again for luck. Then he ran through the door of the Mermaid Inn shouting that someone was going to get killed very soon and that they should all take cover.
The police constable made Arthur a cup of tea while they waited on Cuthbert coming down from London to take him back home.
Arthur said he was sorry that he hadn’t realised that the baddies were in fact butchers who had come to the Mermaid Inn to kill a pig for the wedding that Saturday.
He was sorry and he wouldn’t do it again.
The truth was, he wasn’t sorry and he did do it again.
bobby stevenson 2013