This is the seventeenth part of a fiction serial, in 925 words.
By the time Fionn arrived in Boston, he was suffering from the cold weather, and his boots were worn out. Pleased to hear that the British had already withdrawn from the city, he made it his first task to slip away from his company to steal some new boots. Breaking down the flimsy shop door of a loyalist boot-maker, he threatened the terrified old man with his musket until he was provided with boots of a good fit. They were old ones, left for repair, but suited him well enough.
James was on a ship that had departed from the harbour at Boston. He was pleased to be leaving the place. The conditions during the recent siege had been bad, with fevers abundant, and lack of food. Overlooked by the Colonial Army, they had been subjected to occasional artillery bombardment as they manned the defences around the perimeter. They made a token defence until the ships could be loaded, and then they were told to board at the last minute, once the winds were suitable. The Colonel told him that they were heading for Canada, and there might still be sea-ice further north.
Oscar had a plan, and he outlined it to his father. He intended to buy up as much suitable arable land as he could find in the county, for the planting of wheat and barley, ready for the next year’s harvest. Rather than lease the land to tenant farmers, he would appoint managers to work for the Dakin family, so that the family received all of the profits.
The pair headed out in the coach with bags of coin, together with two well-built footmen armed with pistols, in case of highwaymen or robbers. William Frost was given a blunderbuss to keep next to his seat too. The care of the house was left to Agatha and Prudence, with the running of the business in the charge of their lawyer.
The sight of coin proved popular with landowners and struggling or elderly farmers around the county. Oscar had soon purchased many existing farms, small and large, as well as unused land suitable for crop cultivation. That would need work to clear it for planting, and contractors were also taken on. Deposits were given, with the promise of full pay on completion of the work. Attending to his contracts and paperwork whilst staying in an inn near the Suffolk border, Oscar told his father that he estimated the first profits to be realised within two years.
Back at Dakin Hall, Prudence could keep her secret no longer, and told Agatha she was with child again. Agatha smiled at the news. With little Charity still so small, Ocscar had not wasted any time.
After landing in Nova Scotia, James and his company were assigned to become part of General Howe’s advance on New York. Soon back on board ship, they set sail for Manhattan, where the campaign finally saw some success, as Washington had to withdraw his smaller army into prepared defences. Fionn had still never fired a shot in anger, though he talked a lot of bravado. Sensing panic in his colleagues when faced with the British force, he seriously considered deserting. But there was nowhere to go, so he stuck it out hoping the Colonial Army would retreat.
Buying up farms and land was not always so easy. Most had long-term tenant farmers. The news that they were no longer required by the Dakin family did not go down well. Almost all only had an agreement by either tradition or handshake, so Oscar and Percival were under no obligation to retain them, or to pay compensation. Such as it was, any notice given to those unfortunates was not compulsory, and they had few rights in law. Of course, none of that concerned either of the Dakin men. Their thoughts were only of business and profit.
Near the end of their trip around the county, they received a message from a landowner. He has sold them two small farms near Thaxted, and sent a letter to them at the nearby inn where they were staying. One of the tenants had been sucessfully evicted, but the second was refusing to go. He had threatened to spoil the land with tar, and was barricaded in his house along with his family. Oscar decided that it might be best to visit the troublesome farmer, and pay him off to avoid further bother.
The farmhouse looked like little more than a hovel, and the nearby barn was in a sad state of repair too. Oscar and Percival agreed that it should not take too much coin to pay this impoverished man to seek employment elsewhere. They left the coach, and walked up the rutted path, calling to the farmer to show himself. In reply, the furious man poked a double-barrelled fowling piece through the open shutter of a window, and discharged the weapon at them, firing high.
But not high enough.
Percival was closer, and received a charge of birdshot in his throat, directly under his chin. Oscar was also hit on the side of his face, but was able to keep upright. The footmen they had brought from Dakin Hall came rushing forward at the sound of the shot. They managed to burst in and disarm the man as he frantically tried to reload.
But it was too late for Percival, who lay dead on the filthy, straw-covered ground. And despite the coachman rushing Oscar to Thaxted to see a doctor, his right eye could not be saved.