22 July, 2010

send me

"Send me, sir. I will go," said the young boy.

Hairy caterpillars worked up and down as the man contemplated the offer.

"You realise, lad, that this will be a dangerous task?"

"Yes sir, I do. I'm quick on my feet and know the streets better than any cabby. I can hide and nobody would ever question another little boy running around."

"That is true, but do you understand the utmost importance of the responsibility you are taking? It is but one letter, but the weight of its matter could well break your back if others learn that you are the messenger."

"Yes sir. I understand. Send me. I will go. Nobody else wants to."

Wrinkles forced the hairy caterpillars to writhe in what seemed like worry.

"You cannot stop for breath, cannot misplace, cannot lose this letter. You may well be sought for and killed. Are you absolutely certain?"

"Ask the master there, sir," said the boy, pushing his peaked cap up a little higher so that he could look above the man's well groomed chin. "He knows how responsible I can be."

The master nodded thoughtfully, though his thin-pressed lips seemed troubled.

"He's a good lad. He'll do as his told without a second to waste."

"Very well then. You, my young man, will go. I only wish you weren't so young, for though you may deliver the letter, there is a good chance, you may not make it back."

"Oh, I will, sir. You wait and see. I'll be there and back in a jiffy, only you tell me where to go and who to see."

"I will that, my young man. What's your name?"

"Jeffrey Hold, sir."

"Then young Jeffrey. Here's the letter. Put it in your breast pocket and let no other see it or even know it's there. Do not lose it at any cost. It must be delivered within the week to either a lady with golden hair and a pearl ring upon her left little finger or to a tall footman with a scar across his nose like so and who stutters when he talks."

Jeffrey repeated what the man said, committing it to memory and the hairy caterpillars lifted in seeming surprise.

"The place you are to go is Castleford, across the river. There you may find either of the people I have described to you and you may be sure that if you ask them if they had found an apple penny, they will be sure to answer you with a confirmation that they had and will tell you where next, you are to go. Here, Jeffrey, I will give you a few coins to keep you on your way. Be careful."

"That I will, sir." Again, Jeffrey carefully repeated the instructions until he knew them and the hairy caterpillars nodded in time to his words. "When should I start?"

"That you'd best ask your master. When do you think would be best?"

"I believe he should have a good supper and rest well tonight. Then tomorrow morning, he should leave in the morning market rush, with a full stomach to send him on his way."

"There you go, lad. Is there anything you would like?"

"Only a spare handkerchief and a belt."

"And you shall have them." The man pulled out a extra large sized handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to the boy. "There you go. I dare say your master will see to the belt."

"That I will. Go see Cook for supper first, lad, and I'll see what I can find you."

"Thank you sir. Thank you master. I'll bid you a good night then."

And off the boy trotted, looking ridiculously much too young for such an important task as this. The men almost felt as if they were monsters, for sending such a young lad into the fray, but they were helpless to do anything else.

"God help him and watch over him," murmured the bushy caterpillars, already moist.

"Amen," said the master in a quiet tone.

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