The cold October air was bitter tasting this morning, as it whipped past Arthur’s unprotected face. In the glare of the newly risen sun, he hung on to the cart, bracing his legs straight against the unsecured barrels on the other side. He hated it when Mr Tumbridge drove this fast. It was fine on the smooth high street, but once they had turned off on to the cobbled roads, the journey became hellish; a combination of bouncing down hard and wrestling to keep the cargo in place.
“Whoa Bess” Said Mr Tumbridge, leaning back hard as he pulled the cart to a stop.
“Right, lad. Two bitter and one ale.” He said, climbing down, and knocking on the door of the ‘Hare & Hounds’ Arthur, grateful to no longer be hanging on, began moving the requested barrels as Mr Tumbridge went inside. Soon enough, he was lowering the barrels into the pubs cellar. Mr Tumbridge untied the rope from the last one, before looking up at Arthur with a guilty face.
“Er, the landlords invited me for a swift ‘un. Keep an eye on Bess, eh?” He said, shutting the cellars delivery door before Arthur could reply.
Dispirited, Arthur slouched back to Bess, and fed her a sugar cube, before pulling his jacket up against the cold as best he could. Just another working day, he told himself.
But Mr Tumbridge really took his time today. And Arthur was beginning to feel his hands go numb when, briefly, on the street corner, a head appeared, scowled at him, then disappeared. Arthur patted Bess, who whinnied with frustration at being still for so long.
“Sup” said a voice behind Arthur. He turned to see the same face from the corner. A young man. Before he could answer, another “Sup” Sounded from behind him, as two men walked purposely toward the wagon. Arthur muttered an ‘aye’ but put his back to Bess, slowly reaching into the drayman’s foot rest as casually as he could.
“Now then.” Said one of the two men, so close that his frozen breath drifted as a mist about Arthur.
“We just want the ale” he said, Adding “You can keep the horse” in a friendly, almost helpful tone. Arthur bowed his head, as if agreeing, while ever so gently bringing up his left hand in front of him, while his right hand found and tightly gripped the shillelagh in the wagons foot well.
“Good lad” Said the man. Swiftly, Arthur grabbed the mans tightly buttoned jacket with a tight fist, and pulled him forward, letting him have the shillelagh as hard as he could. It was designed for this kind of close combat, and he fell down heavily, clearly dazed. The others saw this and ran, obviously not wanting a fight. The man staggered off after them, clutching the side of his now bleeding head.
Emboldened, Arthur considered chasing after them, but at that moment, the door of the Hare & Hounds opened, and Mr Tumbridge staggered out.
“Right. Little stop off. No bother, eh?”
“No sir” Replied Arthur, gently sliding the shillelagh back into place.
“Good. Good. Onward To the Huntsman!”
Arthur climbed up onto the back, once again sliding his legs to hold the barrels in place. His left hand was still clenched, and as he got into position, he opened it, discovering a tear of fabric and a small, worn button. On it, almost rubbed smooth with time, was an embossed word. ‘Dogsbody’.
Aye, though Arthur. You and me both.
The Adventures of Arthur Miracle: Dogsbody © Arken Mint 2014