38. Lathering

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He was dangling from the thick branch of a tree just inside the line of the forest. 

An oak tree. With small, vibrant green leaf buds half unfurled. 

The heels of his boots were worn down, on the insides but not on the outsides, giving them an odd, uneven appearance. 

There was a slight breeze passing. Neither cold nor warm, that smelled like wood chips and brine. 

The calls of man over the top echoed across the lawn and were picked up in the fields to the East, the news cresting and ebbing like waves on the sea as it was passed from man to man. 

The noose was made of thickly braided hemp. It looked remarkably like the rope we used in the stables.

A robin chirped, fairly close by.  

All these small details were both thousands of miles away, and yet so sharply defined that I thought I might be faint. 

A small clump of men had gathered, and stood gazing at Montgomery's lifeless body as it swayed gently, a good three feet above the ground. 

"Cut him down," I said. My voice echoing oddly from somewhere above and behind me. "Cut him down and cover him." 

Movement rippled through the group. I felt a tug on my arm and I was gently pulled away and back across the lawn that I'd just crossed at a dead run before I knew who it was who had left us so unexpectedly. 

Or rather, perhaps not so unexpectedly.

How long ago had that been? I wasn't sure. 

"We have to make sure everything is done properly. There are procedures," I said to no one in particular. 

"Yes, Miss," said a deep voice at my side. I rather thought that it came from the man who was leading me by the arm towards the house, but couldn't be sure. 

I didn't feel real. Nothing did. It was like walking through a dream.   

Soon I found myself seated on a wooden chair in the kitchen with a steaming cup of tea in my hands and Agatha asking me questions.

"What? I'm sorry. What?"   

"How are you feeling now?"

"Fine. What's been done?"

"He's been cut down and taken to the chapel. Mr Carter has gone to inform the police." 

"Oh, good." I took a sip of the tea. It was almost cold. Hadn't it just been hot? 

"Who found him?"

"I believe it was Mr Carter, doing his rounds."  

"We shall have to contact the vicar to reserve a place in the cemetery. Or, no. Perhaps his family will want to take him home. There are so many things to think about. Did he have family? I'm not sure. We must look in the records for an address. "

"There's time for all of that later." I felt the tea cup being removed from my hand and replaced a short time later with a much hotter one. 

I could hear the mumbling of voices in the distance but still felt as though my head were filled with cotton stuffing and I was strangely numb and cold, despite the heat in the kitchen.

Last time it was the same. . . she'll come out of it in a while. . . hand me the masher. . .put more tea on, there's a good lad. . .dinner needs preparing all the same. . .perhaps she should be taken somewhere else?. . .don't over stir that. . . have they called for him?. . .

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