The annual Agricultural Show at Bures was a small country affair. Set in the little market town, in an area slightly more well off than most, the participants tended to reflect the contentedness and unawareness of the flow of the world beyond their borders shown by the county as a whole.
The introduction of two such colorful strangers as the men who wandered through the show wearing bright yellow embroidered shirts, checked suits and red bandanas in lieu of ties was cause therefore for considerable attention from the locals.
So distracted were the eyes of Bures natives that they failed to notice that the light blonde hair and pale complexion of the younger man was not in keeping with the ethnicity his clothing suggested.
The older, dark complexioned, man smiled cheerily and tipped his hat, complete with purple feather, to all those that stared. To his companion he murmured, "Don't get many Travelers round these parts, I take it?"
"The same families have been coming to the Bures show since Napoleon, Raby." The blonde man explained. "I don't imagine they see many new faces of any sort."
"Well, at least they're not hostile." Raby commented philosophically. "Where can we get the best view of this race now, lad?"
"If I remember right, it starts on the park edge, swings through the wood and ends in front of the stands. So over there between the two will let us see both the start and the finish. The Ashby colors are primrose and violet. He'll be wearing them no doubt, so we'll have no trouble spotting him."
As the riders took their positions for the start of the race, Raby whistled softly through his teeth. "Sure and he's the image of you, Paddy. Easy enough to see how he could claim to be you."
"Yes." Paddy agreed. Quietly taking in his doppelganger.
"And that's one fine little mare he's sitting," The older man admired. "Think he's up to her?"
"He couldn't very well claim to be an Ashby and not be. Latchetts has always bred good horses."
"Good horse sense, too, if you're anything to judge by." Raby told the younger man affectionately.
The race got underway. Watching Paddy's double closely, Raby said. "Good beginning. Letting the other riders get out a little in front of him like that. Chance to size up the field and holds back his mounts strength for the end. Playing to the horse's strengths he is. See how she likes chasing the horses in front of her?"
"Let's see if he can finish as well." Paddy answered dubiously.
When the horses came back into view, the blonde man in Ashby colors was in a solid second place, with his horse level with the hindquarters of the chestnut in the lead. As they approached the finish line the two horses came nearly even and took the last two obstacles of the race close to side by side. Then, momentarily the Ashby horse slowed ever so slightly.
"Oh, bad luck!" Raby exclaimed. "The mare's tiring."
"No, wait." Paddy had become excited despite himself.
The lead horse too was tiring, and thinking his competitor was falling back, his rider eased up. At that instant the other rider gathered his horse together and rocketed past him. The chestnut's rider pushed his horse once more, but they were too near the post for him to catch up.
"And the winner is Chevron from Latchetts, ridden by Patrick Ashby," announced the loud speaker as the crowd cheered.
Paddy and Raby joined in. "As fine a piece of riding as I've seen in many a day," crowed Raby.
"Aye." Paddy agreed. "A man that can ride like that just might deserve to be master of Latchetts after all."
"Well, that's up to you, lad." Raby could not quite conceal his relief. "Though the Lord knows we don't want to lose you to the gentiles. Rosa wouldn't be happy with that life and I want my grandchildren around me as I grow old."
"And I don't want to leave. But I can't let him take advantage of my blood kin either." Paddy looked unhappy. "Only way to find out is to talk to him I suppose."
Brat stood looking out over Kenley Valley. Despite his win earlier today he was not happy. His mind toiled round and round over the problem that had presented itself tonight with Simon Ashby's drunken admission of guilt earlier this evening.
"You killed him," Brat said, suddenly sure of it.
"Of course I did." Simon leaned forward and looked delightedly at Brat. "But you'll never be able to say so, will you? Because of course Patrick isn't dead at all. He's alive, and I'm talking to him."
And therein lay the rub. Brat had come to Latchetts masquerading as the eight years gone, and presumed dead, Patrick Ashby and been accepted as such by everyone.
Everyone, it seemed, but Patrick's minutes younger twin brother, Simon. Who, it now appeared, knew conclusively that Brat could not be Patrick no matter how good his masquerade appeared.
Simon assumed that Brat would have to keep quiet about the murder. That he was as conscienceless as Simon himself. But Brat, despite having reluctantly entered into a fraud to claim Patrick's name, inheritance and, of greatest importance to the foundling Brat, family, drew the line far short of murder.
The question was – what was he to do now? He had boldly laid claim to retribution in front of Simon, but he could think of no way to accomplish it.
"Troubled thoughts?" A soft voice with a touch of a brogue inquired.
Startled, Brat turned to come face to face with a young man, about his own age, small, light boned, long faced, and pale of skin, eyes and hair. The youth was more like to himself than to Simon, but Brat knew instantly that here was an Ashby.
Yet again his insides churned, but this time Brat felt suddenly lightened. He found himself grinning. "Yes. But probably not for the reason you're thinking. Patrick Ashby I presume?"
"I've been Paddy Smith for eight years now." Patrick considered him quizzically. "And had no plans to ever take back the name of Patrick Ashby. Until I ran across a copy of the Westover Times and discovered it had been usurped by someone else."
"You kept up with the Westover Times?"
"Nay. My wife got it wrapped around her chips in Ipswich."
Brat had to laugh. "Undone by a chips order in Ipswich. Still your timing couldn't have been better. We need to talk. Let's find some coffee first though. I chilled."
They found an all-night cafe a couple of miles down the road populated by lorry drivers too interested in their pre-dawn sausages to do more than glance incuriously at the brightly clothed gypsy youth accompanied by a young man in evening clothes.
"So what happened to you after Simon thought he killed you?" Asked Brat.
The other man sputtered into his coffee. "How did you know that?"
"Simon confessed to me tonight." Brat sipped his own coffee. "Granted he was more than a little tipsy, but I'd already come to suspect that there was more to your disappearance than met the eye."
"I think you're the one more in need of explaining himself." Paddy told him darkly.
"Fair enough." Brat agreed. "I'll start. I recently came back to England after working in the States for a while. In London I ran across... someone, who first of all mistook me for Simon and then realized that, with some coaching on your life I could pass for you. Against my better judgment I let this person talk me into trying it.'
"For the money?"
"On their part, yes." Brat admitted. "I'm to pay them a small stipend each week. For me..."
He toyed with his cup slightly. "I'm a foundling. Raised in an orphanage. Never really felt like I belonged anywhere. Then suddenly I'm told that I must be an Ashby. The more I heard about Latchetts the more I had to see it. I salved my conscience with the fact that what with the family resemblance I almost certainly had to be an Ashby. Up until tonight it was still something of a game.
"But I'm not sorry I did it," Brat challenged the other man. "No matter what you plan to do about me at least for this little time I had Bee and Nell and the twins. Whatever happens it was worth it to belong to Latchetts for a while."
Paddy sipped his coffee. "I never had that. Not at Latchetts. Patrick Ashby had to die for me to find it."
At Brat's skeptical look, he continued. "No, really. Even before our parents were killed, I always felt like I was, well, a spare. Simon was the one every one paid attention to. He seemed to have gotten a double share of talent and charm."
"And knavery." Brat put in.
"Well, yes." Paddy smiled slightly. "But really it wasn't until I got away from Latchetts, and Simon, that I came into my own."
"So what did happen." Brat asked again. "I've been trying to puzzle out how he did it, because from everything I can find out he was with the local blacksmith during the time when you supposedly went missing."
"I'm not completely sure." Paddy told him. "I was found by some Travelers in the old quarry on Tanbitches down. That area used to be a favorite camping ground of theirs. I had a head injury, but apparently I was able to tell them that my parents were dead and my brother had tried to kill me. The then leader of the clan had a poor enough opinion of gentile family life that he wasn't about to send me, defenseless as I was, back to people who had already almost been the death of me, so he just took me along with them when they moved on.
"Travelers aren't given to reporting incidents to the police at the best of times," Paddy admitted. "What they did was a kindness from our point of view. It took me a long time to recover. I still don't remember much about that day. I think, but I can't be certain, that I was birdwatching when Simon came up to me and asked me something. From what I told the clan after they rescued me I have to think Simon somehow caused me to end up in the quarry, but I don't actually remember any of it.
"By the time I recovered, the clan had adopted me and I was apprenticed to Raby Smith as a horse trainer. I'm a good horseman. Now that my apprenticeship is over Raby and I are partners. I married his daughter, Rosa. We're going to have a baby in a couple of months," Paddy finished proudly.
"Rosa is why I'm here. I wasn't all that sure I actually wanted to come back. But she thought I should check things out. Make sure you weren't up to something at Latchetts that would hurt Aunt Bee or my sisters."
"I would never do anything to hurt Bee and Nell." Brat was adamant. "Which is why I was up looking over Kenley Valley tonight trying to figure out what to do now. It was one thing to take on an identity that had been thrown away. It was another thing entirely to let Simon get away with murder."
"Technically, only attempted murder." Paddy sipped his coffee.
"At least three times now." Brat said darkly. "Simon's developing rather too much fondness for the activity I think. First he sent me out on a rogue horse that had already been responsible for killing one rider without bothering to warn me about it and then today just before the race he loosened the girth on my saddle so that it would hold just long enough so that I could fall going over a jump and probably break my neck."
Paddy swirled his coffee and said quietly, "The problem is none of this is provable. I've only my memory, which was foggy even immediately afterward, and it's eight years after the fact now And your experiences really could have been simple accidents.
"Not to mention what it would do to Aunt Bee and Nell to find out about Simon." Gentle eyes met Brat's. "That's why I never wrote. If they knew I was alive they would insist on knowing why I left and I just couldn't do that to them. "
"I know." Brat agreed. "That's why I was so torn over what to do. I thought it might just be better to disappear off into the night. Is making Simon pay really worth the hurt it would bring to Bee and the rest of the family?"
They both contemplated this. "So we're agreed then? We just let it go?" Paddy finally suggested.
"The thing is," Brat drawled out slowly, "You're a horseman. You know what happens to a horse, when it gets away with bad behavior."
"It tries it again." Paddy considered. "Still an there's really no likelihood of that. I mean, Simon's only gone after us because he wants Latchetts. It's not like there would be anyone else in his way to that."
"I'm not so sure." Brat remember Simon's behavior toward the two women he currently had on his string. If he could treat women who were clearly mad about him that badly… "What happens to Bee, or Nell or Great Uncle Charles, who is due home in a day or two and whose Will no doubt leaves Simon a fair amount of cash, if it would benefit Simon for them to be out of the way?"
This was clearly not a thought that ever occurred to Paddy. After several minutes of silence, he said, "I'm still not sure."
"Neither am I," Admitted Brat. "What we need is a clearer head to look at this."
"Well the clearest headed man I know doesn't want me to take his daughter away from her family just before his first grandchild is born." Paddy supplied. "You know anybody we can trust to keep this quiet if we decide not to do anything?"
"Actually I think I do."
Two nights later, George Peck, Rector of Clare, heard a tapping on the window of his study as he journeyed through ancient Thebes. He came back from Thebes and went to the front door. It was by no means the first time that people had tapped on that window late at night.
Never before though had he opened the door to find two Patrick Ashbys waiting for him.
"Rector, we have quite a story to tell you."
It took the Rector most of a pot of tea, strongly laced with whiskey, to overcome the surprise and sort out their narrative. "You should have written, Patrick. If only to let Bee know you were alive. It has been very hard on her."
"Not as hard as knowing why would have been." Paddy maintained
"Which is why we are here." Brat pointed out. "We're not sure what we should do now."
The Rector, rather surprisingly given how often he silently kept the confidences of his congregation, had no doubts on this subject at all. If murder had been attempted then the law must be invoked. Anything else was anarchy.
Paddy was still not completely convinced. "As a sentiment that's all well and good, but it still comes down to our word against Simon's. Seems to me we'll be bringing a great deal of pain down on Bee and the rest of the family for a very uncertain result."
"For what it's worth, Bee herself has expressed the sentiment of preferring to know the truth to a comfortable fiction." The Rector told them. "That note you left was so ambiguous she was still worried about what had occurred up until you... that is Brat, returned."
"What note?" Paddy asked.
"You didn't leave the note?" Then Brat grinned. "Of course you didn't leave the note. And that is how we get Simon to confess."
Fortunately the Chief Constable was a parishioner of George Peck's and an old friend off the Ashby family. "Because otherwise he'd be more like to toss us in the gaol coming to him with this daft scheme of yours." Paddy told Brat. Despite his comment there was a touch of admiration in his tone. Paddy having spent the last eight years among people who regard a 'daft scheme' as an art form.
The Colonel, listened silently to their stories and proposal before commenting, "This sort of thing generally works better in mystery novels than reality, young man. Far better you just lay out your complaints and let the police handle it."
"Eight years after the fact, and only our word against his?" Paddy shook his head. Then in his broadest brogue he added. "Sure'n which of us do ya think the good people of Clare would be believin', Colonel? The fine young local man they've watched grow up, or the Traveling lad with only an admitted con artist to back him up?"
Colonel Smollett looked pained but did not contradict them.
The stage was set the following afternoon in the Rector's study. Over both Brat and Paddy's objections Bee and Nell were invited to 'cocktails' along with Simon.
"It's kinder to them if they witness things themselves," George told them firmly. "Otherwise they will always have reason for doubts and that would be a disservice to everyone."
Simon proved to be late. Leaving the rest of the group to chat about horses. Brat let himself fully indulge in the conversation since it could well prove to be the last time he could so enjoy Bee and Nell's company. Paddy listened from the next room. Eavesdropping shamelessly on his Aunt and sister as they planned out how best to strengthen Latchetts' line.
As he listened to the quiet repartee between Brat and Nell it became clear to Paddy that Brat might well have reasons other than a search for justice for being willing to give up his claim to be Patrick Ashby. On the whole Paddy approved. Whatever his double's origins proved to be Paddy found himself already regarding the other man as kin. Raby had often assured him that it was more than blood that made family and he felt greater commonality with Brat than he ever had with Simon. "Even before the blighter tossed me off that cliff." He muttered to himself.
Simon finally arrived breezing into the room with his usual carelessness and easy charm. Viewing him through the crack of the open door, Paddy wondered if that charm had always been so facile, or whether he now judged in light of his faint memories that day on Tanbitches down.
After collecting his drink, Simon inquired. "So what is the occasion? I thought we were holding off the celebrations until Uncle Charles arrived from the far east. A place he rattled on at length about in his most recent correspondence. Apparently he has some notion that I should to there and take his place in his firm."
"Yes, he mentioned in my letter that he was going to make that offer to you, Simon." Bee was looking pleased. "We shall be sorry to see you leave, of course, but what a wonderful opportunity."
"Let it be someone else's opportunity then." Simon was going through his drink rather rapidly. "I've no intention of leaving Latchetts."
"Well, perhaps not immediately." Nell put in. "But at some point..."
"No." Said Simon decisively. "No, I have too much attachment to the place to leave. And no reason to. Isn't that right, Patrick?"
"Actually," Paddy said, stepping into the room on a cue far too good to pass up. "I'm thinking you might want to take Uncle Charles up on his offer, dear brother."
Simon stared at him in shock. As did Nell. Bee though stepped toward him, "Patrick?"
"Aye, Aunt Bee. It's me."
"Oh, Patrick." After a quick embrace of her nephew, Bee looked around confused, "But who then is Brat?"
"A foundling, dropped off on the orphanage doorstep as a baby, with a uncanny resemblance to the Ashbys" Brat put in. "I'm sorry I deceived you, Bee."
"No. It has to be more than that." Bee shook her head.
"I agree. He's an Ashby alright." Paddy put in. "And finding out how he fits in the family tree will be high priority. Right after we deal with the small matter to Simon."
"What about Simon?" Bee asked.
"Simon has been trying just a little to hard to hold on to Latchetts." Brat declared. Holding Simon's gaze he added softly. "I told you I was retribution. Thankfully it seems the crime was only one of intent rather than commission."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Simon bluffed.
"Do you not?" Paddy moved to stand by the Rector's desk. On it, carefully secured between two pieces of glass, was Patrick Ashby's suicide note from eight years ago.
"It takes real nerve bash your brother's head in and toss him over a cliff to leave him to die at the bottom of it." Paddy went on. He and Brat had been working on this speech since Brat came up with the idea. They needed to get Simon to admit to something before everyone had a chance to come to grips with what was happening. "It was only blind luck that there were some Travelers camping on the downs that day. They heard my cries and rescued me."
"It takes even more nerve to then calmly compose a suicide note, writen with the pen you stole from that brother and make sure to leave it where later searchers could find it." Brat continued their story. "A really remarkable piece of work. Except for one thing. If anyone had bothered to test the note for fingerprints they would have found that Patrick had never handled that note. But you had."
Colonel Smollett played his part. "Fingerprint technology has progressed amazingly in the last decade."
"I... I handled the note when it was found." Simon gasped out. "That doesn't mean anything."
"No." Nell finally spoke up. She seemed more saddened than surprised. "Neither of us ever saw the note. Bee wouldn't even let us read the news accounts. I wondered at the time how it was you knew what the note said since there was no way you could have seen it."
"You're misremembering." Simon was getting nearly frantic.
"No, I'm not." Nell shook her head. "I remember distinctly, because when you told me what the note said, and what it meant, you seemed far less upset over it than I was. Which just wasn't right, Simon. He was, is, your twin. You should have been as devastated as I was."
After a long silence, Bee raised the issue. "What happens now, Colonel?"
"Patrick is disinclined to prosecute." Colonel Smollett told them. "He is, however, also disinclined to have his attempted murderer hanging about in a position to try again."
"In that case I think it best that you take Uncle Charles up on his offer, Simon. Immediately." Bee told her nephew. "In fact I think you should go start packing now. There is no doubt a flight you can be on within the next day or two."
After Simon had left to follow these instructions. Bee sank into a chair and held her head. Brat knelt next to her. "I'm so sorry, Bee."
"You have nothing to be sorry for, dear." She reached out to pat his hand. "Despite whatever little game you were playing, you had nothing to do with what happened eight years ago. If anything we should probably be apologizing to you for not taking you in as a child. We must make inquires and find out who you really are."
"An Ashby certainly." Paddy put in.
"But not a near relative." Nell added. "I mean at closest Brat couldn't be more than a second cousin, could he?"
Brat wondered if Nell knew that was the closest relative the one could legally marry.
Trying to rally herself, Bee said. "Colonel, thank you for letting us handle it within the family as you did. I know this must have gone against the grain for you."
The Colonel shook his head. "Not really. I wouldn't have gone along with the boys' little charade if there had been any possibility of taking this matter before the Court, Bee. And neither would George."
The Rector looked considerably less certain on that point, but said nothing as Colonel Smollett continued. "It would have been difficult to lift readable prints off that note after a night in the damp open air if it had been done eight years ago. Assuming there were any to find. Children's prints fade away very quickly. Much less oil in the skin or some such thing. And even if there had been prints to find, the boys were twins. Probably couldn't tell Simon's from Patrick's. Not conclusively at any rate."
"We're not identical." Paddy pointed out.
"No, but the closer the family relationship the more alike the fingerprints. And any prints taken from that note would have been too poor to allow for any kind of in depth analysis." The Colonel concluded. "Better this way. I won't say justice is completely served, but at least Simon won't profit from his misdeeds."
And so the problem of Simon, who before he was fourteen had tried to kill his brother and, believing he had done so, had calmly written a note on his brother's behalf and gone home to his supper, was solved by Colonel Smollett and the Rector taking Simon to catch a flight that would start his journey to the far east. Both had prepared remarks which they hoped would assist him in changing his life for the better. Neither returned convinced they had been successful, but at least each could salve his conscience that he tried.
Which left the problem of Brat.
"I can clear out right away." Brat offered.
"Oh, no!" Nell declared. "That is..."
"Certainly not." Bee agreed. "You must be related to us in some manner. Although I suppose it is for Paddy to say if any of us stay."
Paddy had his own idea. "Of course you'll stay. I've a mind that you can manage Latchetts for me. Rosa and I don't want to live there, but t'would be right handy to have a place to stay in this part of the country. And when we pass through we can trade and cross breed some horses. Improve both our lines that way."
"Are you sure?" Brat could not believe what he was hearing. "I did try to take your place."
"I'm sure. Who is more trustworthy to have for a manager than a man who's already taken everything from you and then smoothly handed it back." Paddy nodded.
"Perhaps Rosa will come to like Latchetts." Bee suggested. "After two hundreds years it seems a shame there will be no more Ashbys living here."
"Nell's here." Paddy pointed out. "And if you're set on another generation of Ashbys here, we'll just insist that Nell's husband take her name rather than the other way round. That's what I did after all.
"Or," He grinned at his sister and Brat. "Maybe he won't need to."
Brat could hardly believe it when Nell flatly stated. "Quite right. Although Brat should probably have his name changed legally. Just so there's no question about it."