Story by Sue Pettit

16th December 2011

It all started on an exceptional starlit night, perfect for their adventure. It would be light enough to let them see where they were going but not light enough for prying eyes so Joe set things in motion. He just hopes he can leave without waking Emily.

“Where are you off to this late, Joe?”

“Business, Emily. Don’t you concern yourself. Me and Tom has business to do.”

“And what business might that be?” Standing square in her voluminous nightdress, Emily is intimidating. “I don’t want you getting into any trouble now.”

“’Course I won’t. Me and Tom have something to pick up, that’s all.”

“And would it be from Billy Bedale by any chance?”

“There’s nowt wrong with Billy.”

“That’s a matter of opinion. Well, whatever you pick up I don’t want it brought back here. Is that understood?”

“Aye.” Joe pulls on his boots and coat and leaves the house. Emily goes to bed. She doesn’t trust Billy Bedale. Joe and Tom are gullible fools but Billy has a real wicked streak.

The multitude of shimmering stars help to light Joe’s way, useful in a village with no street lighting and a number of obstacles ready to trip up the unwary.

“You there, Tom?” He stops by the lychgate leading to the church and peers inside. Tom is sitting, waiting.

“Brought the cash?”

“Aye. Got the cart?”

Tom nods and they start to walk through the village, deathly quiet at this time of night and not a lighted window to be seen. In silence they walk past the pub, long shut, and the post office. They pass the school and the big village pond, it’s surface reflecting the stars. A few cottages and then they are through the village and into the fields. Tom dives behind a hedge and reappears with an ancient handcart.

“It’s a noisy old contraption but the best I could do.”

“Right we are then. Off to see Billy.”

They trundle the cart along two field paths until they come to Billy’s farm. It’s more of a small holding really. Billy has his fingers in too many other pies to dedicate himself to farming.

At the back of the house is a large barn. Here Billy stores his goods, most of them ill gotten. “Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies” is Billy’s motto.

He appears from the depth of the dark interior. Money changes hands.

“You’ll have a drop before you leave?”

Joe and Tom need no encouragement and, sitting on a hay bale, they toast each other with a small tot of the very best French brandy, one of Billy’s regular duty-free acquisitions. A second and then a third tot follow the first. Billy can afford to be generous.

“Right! Best be off then.” With some difficulty Joe stands up and hauls Tom to his feet. “Where is it?”

Billy disappears into the darkness and emerges rolling a large barrel, a barrel of the best French brandy. They ask no questions but heave it onto the cart.

“I’ll be in touch when the next delivery is due,” and Billy disappears within again.

The return journey is much more difficult. The barrel is large, the cart inadequate. For some reason both Joe and Tom have problems co-ordinating their limbs, especially their legs. The brandy has gone to their heads.

Joe starts to serenade the stars.

“Shut up, you daft fool. D’you want the whole village to come and see us?”

Joe stops singing but grabs the handles of the cart.

“My turn and I bet I make a better job of it than you.”

He pushes the cart roughly over a tuft of grass, almost dislodging the barrel.

“Whoops!”

“Here, give it to me.”

Tom grabs the handles and makes wobbly progress along the field path. They come to the houses at the edge of the village.

“Not a sound from now on,” Tom warns.

Like a couple of children they try and tiptoe quietly past the houses, shushing at the noisy cart and nudging each other. Again they come perilously close to losing their precious cargo when Tom trips over his own feet. Joe saves it by throwing himself on top, nearly breaking the cart.

Their next obstacle is the pond, still littered with shimmering stars. Tom is mesmerised and trips again.”

“Here, let me take it.” Joe tries to wrest the handles from him.

“Get off! I can manage.”

They wrestle with the cart as they circle the pond until Joe slips on a glob of mud and knocks into Tom. Tom uses the cart to try and keep his balance and the cart rids itself of its load. Aghast they watch their barrel slide into the pond.

“You daft sod!”

Tom turns on Joe and thumps him in the guts.

“It wasn’t my fault.” Joe is gasping. “You’d better think how to get it out.”

“Not tonight I won’t. I’m off. It’ll be safe enough for a while.” Tom turns and wheels the cart away.

Sober again, Joe goes home, hoping that Emily is asleep. She is.

They plan the rescue for two nights later, trusting that their barrel is thoroughly watertight. Neither of them fancies having their brandy diluted by pond water or diluted by anything.

“Not again, Joe. Where this time?”

“Won’t be long, Emily. Bit of business to attend to.”

“You’d better not be else that door will be locked.”

She means it. Emily can be very fierce.

Tom is at the lychgate with the cart and tools.

“Some moon tonight. Never seen such a size.”

“Harvest moon. It’s always a big’un. It’s like having the blessed light on.”

They manage to reach the pond without attracting unwonted attention. Even they are awed at the sight they see for there, reflected in the pond, is a perfect moon.

“I reckon we could pick up yonder moon. It’s as clear and as near as you are, Tom.”

“That’s as maybe but we’ve got work to do. Here, grab this.”

Joe catches the rake that Tom throws. They guess their barrel will be near the side so should be easy to rescue.

“Think I’ve got it.” Tom rakes and pulls and Joe rushes to help.

“Here it comes.” It came, a bucket full of water which spills all over them as they pull it onto the grass.

“Damn thing! Try again, in the same spot.”

They are absorbed in their search, so absorbed that they don’t, at first, hear the approaching footsteps.

“And what have we here?”

“Act drunk.” Joe begins to dance like a Dervish, shaking his rake and baying at the moon. Tom sings Widdecombe Fair, the only song that comes to mind in the heat of the moment.

“Come on men. Explain yourselves.” The Custom’s man is peering into the water.

“Look Sir, ‘tis a cheese. ‘Tis the biggest cheese we’ve ever seen and we mean to have him.”

“What are you talking about? Where is your cheese?”

“’Tis there, Sir, in the pond.” Joe points his rake at the reflected moon. “We’re come to rake it up and take it home before it gets sodden.”

The Custom’s man decides to humour them. Let the drunken simpletons have their fun.

“I wish you well. You catch your tasty cheese and save a slice for me. But mind you don’t go falling in because I’ll not be coming back to rescue you.”

“Don’t you worry, Sir. We’ll be careful and we’ll put a slice by for yourself.” Joe sits down, pulls an empty flask from his pocket and pretends to drink. “Here’s a toast to our cheese.”

Tom starts another chorus of Widdecombe Fair.

“Don’t you go waking up the village with your drunken revelry. Just catch your cheese and go home to bed.”

The Custom’s man walks away, laughing to himself. Joe stays where he is and Tom joins him.

“That was a close shave. Come on. Let’s get on with it.”

It is dawn and the village is stirring by the time their barrel is stowed safely in Tom’s shed.

“Do you fancy a tot before going home?”

“No I don’t. Leave it to settle a while and don’t let that goat of yours anywhere near it.”

Joe makes his way home. That had been a close shave all right. Good job he thought they’d had a few, silly old devil. It was going to make a good story at the pub. The locals would be hearing it for many a night. Meanwhile he has to face Emily.

Find Your Local